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Arizona lawmakers vote by a narrow margin to repeal Civil War-era abortion ban

Spectators in the gallery of the Arizona Senate Wednesday wave their hands in silent disapproval. The Senate voted to repeal a near-total ban on abortion was passed in 1864.
Matt York / AP
Spectators in the gallery of the Arizona Senate Wednesday wave their hands in silent disapproval. The Senate voted to repeal a near-total ban on abortion was passed in 1864.

The Arizona Senate voted Wednesday to repeal the Civil War-era ban on abortion that was recently revived by a court ruling, setting the stage for it come off the books later this year.

The repeal passed the Republican-led Senate by a vote of 16 to 14, with a couple Republicans joining Senate Democrats. (Republicans hold 16 seats in the 30-seat Senate.)

"I don't want us honoring laws about women written during a time when women were forbidden from voting because their voices were considered inferior to men," said Democratic State Sen. Eva Burch of Mesa.

The debate was occasionally interrupted by demonstrators in the gallery. Republicans who favored keeping the law said the repeal endangered children and violated Christian tenets.

Arizona became the focus of the country's state-by-state abortion debate April 9, when thestate supreme court ruled that a ban on abortions passed in 1864 could be enforced again.

Last week the House passed a bill to repeal the law and Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs promised to sign it after Senate approval. But lawmakers lacked the votes to make the repeal effective immediately, meaning there could be uncertainty for months about whether it can still be enforced.

The state's Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes has vowed not to enforce it.

But newly-signed bills don't go into effect until 90 days after the end of the legislative session. It is still unclear when the ongoing session will end. The session continues while Republican legislative leadership and Hobbs negotiate the state budget. Last year the session did not end until July 31.

That delay could result in the near-total ban going into effect in June before the repeal takes it off the books.

Hobbs' office said the government plans to sign the repeal Thursday. "They should have repealed it a long time ago so we wouldn't be in this position," Hobbs said last week. "Unfortunately, it's not possible to get this repeal enacted right away."

The 1864 law passed when Arizona was a still U.S. territory and it outlawed abortions except to save the life of the mother. It remained effectively dormant during the decades that Roe vs. Wade enshrined a federal right to abortion.

Months before Roe was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, Arizona passed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, except to save the life of the mother. And at the same time, it voted to keep the 1864 law on the books as well - enabling the court case that revived it.

It had already been unclear when the old ban would take effect. Attorney General Mayes estimated that ongoing legal maneuvers have delayed the effective date of the 1864 ban to June 27. Mayes has filed a request with the state Supreme Court to hold off on its mandate in the case, which could delay enforcement and possibly close the gap.

Though Mayes vows not to enforce the old ban, local prosecutors could try to put that to a test. Mayes said Wednesday after the vote that her office was exploring more legal options to prevent the old law from taking effect.

Meanwhile, pro-abortion rights groups are working to put an amendment enshrining abortion access into the state constitution to a vote in November.

Wayne Schutsky covers Arizona politics for member station KJZZ.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Wayne Schutsky
[Copyright 2024 KJZZ]