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Arizona Republicans Thwart Attempts to Repeal 1864 Abortion Ban

A ruling by Arizona’s highest court upholding an 1864 ban on nearly all abortions caused chaos and confusion across the state Wednesday. As abortion providers were inundated with phone calls from frantic patients, Republican lawmakers at the state Capitol blocked efforts to overturn the ban, drawing angry jeers from Democrats.

Democrats, who have used the move to resurrect the 160-year-old ban as a crucial election issue, have tried to push bills through the Republican-controlled Legislature. repeal the bana measure they say would protect women’s health and liberty, and also require Republicans to formally vote on the law.

But Republican leaders in the Senate removed a bill from the agenda Wednesday, legislative aides said. In the House, a Republican lawmaker who had called for repealing the law introduced a motion to pass a Democratic repeal bill that has been stalled for months. But Republican leaders quickly derailed that effort by calling for a recess and then adjournment until next Wednesday.

Senate Democrats shouted “Shame!” and “Save women’s lives!” » as their Republican colleagues left the room.

“I don’t see why we wouldn’t move forward,” said Sen. Anna Hernandez, a Phoenix Democrat. “Are they serious or not?” she said of the Republicans. “Do they just back off when they realize they are on the losing side in a political battle?”

Despite pressure from Democrats and some Republicans to overturn the law, it was unclear whether Republican leaders, who closely control both chambers of the Legislature, would authorize immediate action on proposals to repeal the prohibition.

Rep. Teresa Martinez, a Republican and abortion opponent, criticized Democrats for trying to force a vote a day after the court ruling. She called their chants and shouts extremist and insurrectionary behavior.

“We don’t want to repeal the pre-Roe law without first discussing it,” she said in a speech. “There is no reason to rush into this very important subject. We must listen carefully to all points of view. We cannot do that when our colleagues act as they did this morning.

The President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, both Republicans, issued a joint statement pointing out that the court’s decision had not yet taken effect and likely would not for weeks, as the legal battle over the 1864 law returns to a lower court for additional arguments on its constitutionality.

They said they are reviewing the decision and will listen to their constituents to determine what the Legislature should do. But Axios reported that House Speaker Ben Toma opposed a repeal and said he would not allow a vote on it.

Democrats say they have limited time and resources to repeal the law because Arizona’s legislative session is advanced.

The decision and subsequent backlash exposed divisions among Arizona Republicans over their support for abortion restrictions. And it highlighted how abortion has become a political vulnerability for Republicans since the overturning of Roe v. Wade two years ago, even in traditionally conservative states.

Some Arizona Republicans who had previously voted in favor of abortion restrictions or to grant legal protection to fetuses abruptly changed course after Tuesday’s ruling and called for repeal or another legislative solution.

On Wednesday, former President Donald J. Trump, who claimed credit for appointing U.S. Supreme Court justices who struck down the constitutional right to abortion, said Arizona’s high court had gone too far and that he thought “this would be taken care of”. »

But the Freedom Caucus, an ultraconservative party in the state, praised the court’s decision, saying it protected innocent lives, and vowed to oppose efforts to overturn it.

Clinics and patients struggled to understand the legal and administrative confusion left by the Arizona high court’s 4-2 vote, with little certainty about when the 160-year-old ban would come back into effect .

The phones are constantly ringing at Camelback Family Planning in Phoenix, according to Dr. Gabrielle Goodrick, the clinic’s owner and medical director, with patients asking if they can still get services and for how long.

“They’re panicking,” Dr. Goodrick said.

She said her clinic, one of seven free-standing abortion centers in the state, has already been forced twice to temporarily stop performing abortions after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe. The threat of having to shut down again because of the 1864 ban, Dr. Goodrick said, would upend clinics and threaten patients’ health.

“We live in a dystopia,” she said. “I hope the Legislature does something.” This is not what Arizonans want.

While the number of abortions nationwide has increased since the Dobbs decision, Arizona was one of the few states where it decreased from 2020 to 2023, even though abortion remained legal. Doctors say this was partly due to uncertainty surrounding the 1864 ban, which had remained unresolved as long as Roe was the law of the land.

(The same decline has occurred in Wisconsin, where a ban dating to 1849 remains in effect. A judge ruled last year that the law did not make abortion illegal, but the state Supreme Court plans to appeal this decision).

Emergency room doctors, anesthesiologists and obstetricians said they feared being sued if they participated in an abortion, even if it endangered a woman’s health or life. Those fears were somewhat assuaged after hospitals and their advocates developed policies, said Dr. Julie Kwatra, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Honor Health in Scottsdale.

“It feels like a cataclysm,” Dr Kwatra said. “The Dobbs decision was a shock, and while people weren’t entirely comfortable with the 15 weeks, they felt like Arizona had dodged a bullet,” she said.

“Not now. We didn’t dodge the bullet,” she said.

According to WeCount, a measure of the Society of Family Planning, the number of abortions in Arizona fell to 210 the month after Roe was overturned, compared to 1,470 abortions the month before. As the monthly number began to rise again in subsequent months, data from the Arizona Department of Health showed a nearly 18% decline between 2021 and 2022.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions in Arizona decreased by 10% between 2020 and 2023. In contrast, New Mexico, where many abortion providers from banned states moved their practices after the rollback of Roe, saw an increase of 257%.

Because of an order issued in a separate lawsuit over the ban, the state cannot begin enforcing it until 45 days after the state Supreme Court issues its ruling. Planned Parenthood and other clinics said they would continue to offer abortions, within 15 weeks of pregnancy, “for a short time” until the ban takes effect.

The Abortion Access Dashboard, run by Middlebury College researchers, says the average distance to an abortion provider in Arizona is now about 32 miles and 36 minutes. Under the ban, the database estimates that women seeking an abortion would have to drive nearly four hours and 248 miles.

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat, said she would not authorize prosecutions under the law. But Dr. Kwatra, state legislative chairman of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says providers tell him they won’t take the risk of providing abortions.

“What happened after Dobbs was there was a period where abortion wasn’t offered, and then very quickly it was offered but the people on the ground didn’t know it, so I’ve had patients who were still going out of state because they didn’t ask, and they still thought it was illegal,” she said. “That deterrent effect remains a problem .People are leaving the state, delaying care.

“Even if providers don’t close their doors, their staff could leave,” Dr. Kwatra said. “There is still a dark cloud of illegality.”

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