Arizona Republicans uphold 1864 abortion ban, Democrats still seek repeal

Arizona's Supreme Court revives a law dating back to 1864 that bans abortion in virtually all instances
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By Liliana Salgado and Daniel Trotta

PHOENIX (Reuters) -Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives tried repeatedly to repeal an 1864 ban on abortion on Wednesday but failed to get the Republican support they needed against the Civil War-era measure poised to become state law once again.

In four votes, the chamber deadlocked 30-30 on a procedural motion that would have allowed a repeal bill to come to the floor, with one Republican joining the 29 Democrats.

One more Republican vote was needed to enable a vote on repealing a law that was written when Arizona was not yet a state and women lacked the right to vote.

Democratic leaders later told reporters they did not anticipate another vote on Wednesday but would try again in future sessions. Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs labeled the Republicans who upheld the law as "extremists."

"I will continue to call on the legislature to do its job and repeal this law," Hobbs said in a statement. "A law from 1864 written by 27 men cannot be allowed to govern the lives of millions of Arizona women."

Before Hobbs could sign any repeal bill, it would need to pass both chambers of the state legislature.

A similar repeal attempt is taking place in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a 16-14 edge. Two Senate Republicans joined the Democrats on Wednesday and voted to advance the bill, but it needs two more such readings before it can reach the Senate floor.

Opposing abortion is seen as sacrosanct to many Republican voters, and crossing party lines on such a touchstone issue would be rare in highly partisan times.

But repealing the 1864 law would still leave in place a law passed by Republicans in 2022 that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. And some Republicans have softened their hardline stance on abortion, mindful of the same polling that has emboldened Democrats.

Cathi Herrod, an influential conservative voice as president on the Center for Arizona Policy advocacy group, warned Republicans ahead Wednesday's sessions against defecting.

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is on their side in supporting abortion rights, Democrats have sought to elevate the issue since the U.S. Supreme Court rescinded the constitutional right to abortion in 2022 and Republican-led states went about setting new severe restrictions.

With or without repealing the 1864 law, Arizona Democrats are also attempting to place a ballot measure before voters in November that would restore abortion rights.

Democrats are hoping the ballot measure energizes their voters in a closely divided state that could swing toward either party, possibly determining the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, and control of both houses of the state legislature.

The old law was revived by a state Supreme Court ruling on April 9, and unless the legislature intervenes it could take effect within 60 days.

It imposes a prison 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.

Arizona House Democrats sought to repeal the ban a week ago, but were thwarted by the narrow Republican majority of 31-29. On Wednesday, Republican Representative Matt Gress joined the Democrats, but one more vote was needed.

Democrat Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, sponsor of the repeal bill, said Democrats would persist and that she was confident it would eventually receive a vote.

"This is Day Two. Day One was last week," Stahl Hamilton told reporters.

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