Arizona Republicans Fend Off Another Effort to Repeal 1864 Abortion Ban

Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

For the second time in as many weeks, Arizona Republicans thwarted an attempt to kill a Civil War-era law that is poised to ban nearly all abortions across the battleground state. A Democrat-led bid to wrestle a repeal bill onto the floor of the state House during a Wednesday legislative session was repeatedly swatted down, with four votes failing in a deadlock.

An uproar over the decision by the Arizona Supreme Court last week to uphold the 1864 abortion ban prompted even some GOP figureheads, former President Donald Trump and Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake chief among them, to come out against its implementation. But Arizona lawmakers have held firm, with state Rep. Ben Toma (R), speaker of the narrowly divided House, signaling that he does not support repeal.

“The last thing we should be doing today is rushing a bill through the legislative process to repeal a law that has been enacted and reaffirmed by the Legislature several times,” Toma said after the first vote’s failure. He asked those present in the room “to respect the fact that some of us believe that abortion is in fact the murder of children.”

Each of the four votes tied at 30-30, with one Republican, state Rep. Matt Gress, crossing the aisle to join the chamber’s 29 Democrats. Going into recess after the fourth vote, there remained a glimmer of hope that the pro-repeal legislators could try again one final time in the afternoon before adjournment.

The “clean repeal” bill, which simply sweeps the 1864 law off the books, was introduced earlier this year by state Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton (D), according to The Arizona Republic.

“We’ve got the eyes of the world watching the state of Arizona,” she said last week, after a first attempt to force a House vote on the bill failed, even with Gress’ support. After the chamber adjourned for the day, several Democrats gathered on the floor to chant “shame!” and “blood on your hands!” at Republicans.

The abortion ban revived by the state’s highest court punishes providers with between two to five years of jail time except in the case of a doctor who deems it necessary to save the life of the mother. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) said in a statement after the fourth vote’s failure on Wednesday that she would continue to call on the legislature to “do its job and repeal this law.

“A law from 1864 written by 27 men cannot be allowed to govern the lives of millions of Arizona women,” she added.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, Sam Paisley, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s national press secretary, said the clock was ticking for the legislature to “pass a fix” on the ban.

“Instead of addressing this dire issue, Republicans have repeatedly ignored calls from Arizona communities and refused to repeal the ban. Republican legislators will own the consequences of this devastating ban taking effect,” Paisley said, adding that flipping both chambers later this year “is not a priority—it’s a necessity.”

Even if the House manages to pass the repeal bill on Wednesday, it will face significant obstacles in the Arizona Senate, which is divided 16-14 in favor of Republicans. (The Senate, which was scheduled to go into session on Wednesday afternoon, could still see the introduction of a separate repeal bill.) Should an afternoon vote fail, however, the legislature is set to reconvene next week.

Another Arizona Republican, state Rep. David Cook, has signaled he supports the concept of repeal. But, he told the Republic on Wednesday, overruling procedure to force a vote wasn’t the “right way” to go about the bill’s passage.

“If we start doing away with all the rules, then why even have them to begin with?” he remarked.

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