AG Kris Mayes: AZ Supreme Court ruling to ban abortion ‘changes everything’

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Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes joined Democrats and abortion rights advocates for a press briefing at the Arizona Capitol on April 9, 2024, shortly after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that an 1864 near-total abortion ban is enforceable. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes is standing firm in her vow to protect those seeking or providing abortions following the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a near-total ban on abortions in Arizona.  

Mayes, along with Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and other Democratic officials, spoke out against the court ruling at a press conference today held jointly by the Biden-Harris Campaign and Arizona Democratic Party. 

She said that the ruling will upset Arizonans — and greatly boost Democrats at the ballot box in November. 

“I think this was a seismic decision, and not in the way that Republicans thought it was going to be for Arizona politics and for the election in November,” Mayes said. “I think this changes everything.”

Gallego called the ban “dangerous” and “out of touch” while emphasizing how the repeal of Roe v. Wade opened the door for such a ruling. 

“(The 1864 ban) was written 160 years ago, before people understood modern medicine,” she said. “There’s no one more responsible for where we are today than Donald Trump…the path to protect the presidency…(and) abortions goes through Arizona. ”

During his term as president, Trump appointed the U.S. Supreme Court justices that overturned nearly 50 years of precedent by ruling that Americans do not have a constitutional right to abortion.

Democrats say that they believe the decision to uphold the Civil War-era ban, which was put into territorial law some six decades before Arizona became a state, underscores the urgency of this year’s presidential election, and will drive voters to the polls. There, Democrats said, voters will elect pro-choice legislative candidates and support the Arizona for Abortion Access initiative that recently announced it has already garnered more than enough votes to be included on this year’s ballot, giving voters the choice between keeping almost all abortions illegal or legalizing them statewide. 

Until then, Mayes has vowed to protect Arizonans from prosecution as her office seeks a further stay of the law to prevent the ban from going into effect “for as long as (they) possibly can.” 

“When the Supreme Court upholds what is clearly an unconstitutional ban on abortion, and when there are still lingering and remaining legal issues to work our way through… I’m not going to allow any county attorney to prosecute abortion, and nor am I,” she said. “Tthe people of Arizona have their say — and, trust me, they are going to have their say in a big way.”

As attorney general, Mayes holds a key role in the conversation of enforcing any bans on abortion. Last year, Gov. Katie Hobbs issued an executive order granting Mayes full responsibility over abortion-related prosecutions to ensure that differences in how attorneys may interpret or apply state laws would not prevent Arizonans from accessing the care they need. 

Regardless of the additional authority granted to her by Hobbs, Mayes said that she would have prevented attorneys from prosecuting Arizonans based on the 1864 ban anyway, as Arizona law states that the AG has “supervisory authority” over the 15 county attorneys, who also hold prosecuting power in the state. 

“This is not over from a legal standpoint. My office, as we speak, is discussing what our next steps are. Whether that is appealing this decision to the United States Supreme Court, whether that is taking the opportunity that it would appear the court gave me in taking this decision and the constitutional questions that remain back down to the superior court,” Mayes said. “The 1864 ban is not yet fully litigated.” 

In the wake of the decision, many legislators took to social media to voice their opinions on the ban. 

Kingman Republican Rep. John Gillette claimed in a post on X that he “did not see 1 democrat bill regarding abortion this session.” In fact, there were two attempts this year to repeal the 1864 abortion ban, but both stagnated in the legislature, where the GOP-majority has the power to decide which bills get heard.  

At the press conference, Rep. Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton claimed the Arizona Republicans are not only complicit in the Supreme Court’s decision, but also complicit in a nationwide attempt to ban access to reproductive health care. 

“Arizona Republicans have made it clear that this is not the end of the road for them. Whether it’s banning abortions, making it harder to get contraceptives, or access to IVF…this ban is just the beginning,” the Tucson Democrat said. “Every Republican in the House and Senate voted in support of fetal personhood legislation, the same type of legislation that opened the door for the ruling in Alabama.” 

Last year, Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, introduced a package of bills that critics have called an attempt to “sneak” fetal personhood into state law. Fetal personhood, which considers a fetus, embryo and fertilized eggs as a person and thus entitled to the same rights as someone already born, played a key role in the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that caused IVF operations to temporarily halt throughout the state.

State Sen. Eva Burch, who recently spoke on the Senate floor about her recent pregnancy complications that led her to having to seek her second abortion, called for less virtue-signaling amongst lawmakers and more honest and open conversations about how abortion bans impact Arizonans. 

“Please believe me, and understand: Women will die. This is not a time for political posturing…this is an issue that absolutely transcends political divides. People of all political parties…of all religious backgrounds utilize abortion care,” she said. “This is the issue of our times, and if you feel like your political party has been hijacked by radical extremists, it’s because it has.”

Since the decision was announced, there have been various calls upon the legislature to undo the Supreme Court’s decision. Republican lawmakers who were once eager to outlaw abortion have since walked back their statements, joining in for the public outrage while ignoring their role in supporting anti-abortion policy. 

When asked if she would be open to finding a compromise with Republicans to overwrite the court’s decision, Burch affirmed that she is not willing to compromise on the lives of pregnant people after 15 weeks just to appear more diplomatic. 

“I am not anticipating any proposals about access to abortion from my Republican colleagues. I really appreciate and respect my republican colleagues… do I think that they are now going to become champions for reproductive healthcare because of this ruling and their fears about what the political consequences might be? Not even then.”

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