Arizona Democrats seek to repeal 1864 abortion ban, but need Republican help

By Thomson Reuters Apr 17, 2024 | 5:05 AM

By Liliana Salgado and Daniel Trotta

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives on Wednesday will seek to repeal an 1864 ban on abortion that is poised to become state law once again, but they will need the help of some Republicans in the closely divided legislature.

A state Supreme Court ruling on April 9 revived a ban on nearly all abortions under a law written during the U.S. Civil War when Arizona was not yet a state and women lacked the right to vote.

The law, which would take effect within 60 days, imposes a sentence of two to five years for anyone found guilty of inducing an abortion except for a doctor who deems it necessary to save the life of the mother.

The ruling added fuel to a raging debate across the United States over abortion rights ahead of the Nov. 5 election.

Democrats, confident that public opinion is on their side in supporting abortion rights, have sought to elevate the issue since the U.S. Supreme Court rescinded the constitutional right to abortion in 2022 and Republican-led states went about setting new restrictions.

Arizona House Democrats sought to repeal the ban a week ago, but were thwarted by the narrow Republican majority.

Democrats said they will try again in Wednesday’s session, scheduled to start at 10 a.m. MST (1 p.m. ET, 1700 GMT).

With Republicans holding a 31-29 advantage, Democrats would need at least two Republicans to join them to succeed. If the repeal passes in the House, Democrats also would need help in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 16-14 edge.

Democratic Representative Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, sponsor of the repeal bill, said she was still counting votes late Tuesday and had been in contact with sympathetic Republicans.

“Nothing is certain until we show up tomorrow,” Stahl Hamilton said.

While crossing party lines on such an issue is rare in highly partisan times, a repeal in Arizona of the 1864 ban would leave in place a 2022 Republican-passed law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Some Republicans have softened their hardline stance on abortion, mindful of the same polling that has emboldened Democrats. Arizona Democrats are attempting to place a ballot measure before voters in November that would restore abortion rights.

One influential anti-abortion voice urged Republicans to stand by previous pledges to ban abortion unless needed to save the life of the mother.

“Arizonans deserve lawmakers they can trust. They want elected officials who keep their word, especially when it concerns human life,” Cathi Herrod, president of the advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy, said in a statement.

Stahl Hamilton said Herrod’s warning “certainly ups the pressure” on Republicans.

(Reporting by Liliana Salgado in Phoenix and Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)