Arizona governor repeals 1864 law banning almost all abortions in the state

Democratic Arizona governor Katie Hobbs has relegated a Civil War-era ban on most abortions to the past by signing a repeal bill on Thursday.

Ms Hobbs said the move is just the beginning of a fight to protect reproductive health care in Arizona.

But the repeal may not take effect until 90 days after the end of the legislative session, in June or July.

Abortion rights advocates hope a court will step in to prevent that outcome.

Abortion Arizona
Katie Hobbs holds up the repeal of the near-total abortion ban at the Capitol in Phoenix (AP Photo/Matt York)

Ms Hobbs denounced “a ban that was passed by 27 men before Arizona was even a state, at a time when America was at war about the right to own slaves”.

“This ban needs to be repealed, I said it in 2022 when Roe was overturned, and I said it again and again as governor,” Ms Hobbs said.

The vote extended for hours as senators described their motivations in personal, emotional and even biblical terms – including graphic descriptions of abortion procedures and amplified audio recordings of a foetal heartbeat, along with warnings against the dangers of “legislating religious beliefs”.

Abortion Arizona
Anti-abortion supporters protest outside at the Capitol in Phoenix (AP Photo/Matt York)

Democratic Arizona attorney general Kris Mayes, an opponent of the near-total abortion ban, has said the earliest the dormant abortion-ban law could be enforced is June 27, though she has asked the state’s highest court to block enforcement until sometime in late July.

But the anti-abortion group defending the ban, Alliance Defending Freedom, maintains county prosecutors can begin enforcing it once the Supreme Court’s decision becomes final, which has not yet occurred.

The near-total ban provides no exceptions for survivors of rape or incest. In a ruling last month, the Arizona Supreme Court suggested doctors could be prosecuted under the law first approved in 1864, which carries a sentence of two to five years in prison for anyone who assists in an abortion.

A repeal means that a 2022 statute banning the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy would become Arizona’s prevailing abortion law.

President Joe Biden’s campaign team believes anger over the fall of Roe vs Wade gives them a political advantage in battleground states like Arizona, while the issue has divided Republican leaders.

The 19th century law had been blocked since the US Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs Wade decision guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion nationwide.

After Roe vs Wade was overturned in June 2022, then-Arizona attorney general Mark Brnovich, a Republican, persuaded a state judge that the 1864 ban could be enforced.

Still, the law has not actually been enforced while the case was making its way through the courts.

Dr Ronald Yunis, a Phoenix-based obstetrician-gynaecologist who also provides abortions, called the repeal a positive development for patients who might otherwise leave Arizona for medical care.

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