Arizona governor set to sign repeal of near-total abortion ban from 1864

Arizona is waving goodbye to a Civil War-era ban of nearly all abortions as a repeal Bill reaches the desk of Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs.

Ms Hobbs says the repeal, scheduled for signing on Thursday, is just the beginning of a fight to protect reproductive healthcare 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.

The effort to repeal the ban won final legislative approval on Wednesday in a 16-14 vote of the Senate, as two Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats.

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”.

At the same time on Wednesday, supporters of a South Dakota abortion rights initiative submitted far more signatures than required to make the ballot this fall, while in Florida a ban took effect against most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant.

Abortion Arizona
Arizona Republican state senator Shawnna Bolick, speaks at the Capitol in Phoenix (Matt York/AP)

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, which predates Arizona’s statehood, permits abortions only to save the patient’s life and 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.

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

“This is good for ensuring that ensuring that women won’t have to travel to other states just to get the health care they need,” Mr Yunis said.

“I was not too concerned because I have a lot of confidence in our governor and attorney general. I’m certain they will continue finding ways to protect women.”

Arizona is one of a handful of battleground states that will decide the next president.

Former president Donald Trump, who has warned that the issue could lead to Republican losses, has avoided endorsing a national abortion ban but said he is proud to have appointed the Supreme Court justices who allowed states to outlaw it.

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

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