Fight over abortion ban engulfs lawmakers in Arizona legislature

11 April 2024, 12:44

Arizona state representative Republican Matt Gress speaks to reporters on the House floor at the Capitol
APTOPIX Abortion Arizona. Picture: PA

House Democrats and at least one Republican tried to open discussion on a repeal of the newly revived 1864 abortion ban.

Shouts of “Shame! Shame!” were heard in the Arizona legislature on Wednesday as Republican lawmakers quickly shut down discussion on a proposed repeal of the state’s newly revived 1864 law that criminalises abortion throughout pregnancy unless a woman’s life is at risk.

The state supreme court cleared the way on Tuesday for enforcement of the pre-statehood law. Arizona abortion providers vowed on Wednesday to continue providing a service until they were forced to stop, possibly within weeks.

State legislators convened as pressure mounted from Democrats and some Republicans, including former US president Donald Trump, for them to intervene.

House Democrats and at least one Republican tried to open discussion on a repeal of the 1864 abortion ban, which holds no exceptions for rape or incest.

Republican leaders, who command the majority, cut it off twice and quickly adjourned for the week.

Outraged Democrats erupted in finger-waving chants of “Shame! Shame!”

Republican state representative Teresa Martinez said there was no reason to rush the debate.

Democratic lawmakers record Arizona state representative Teresa Martinez
Democratic lawmakers recorded Republican House whip Teresa Martinez as she spoke (Matt York/AP)

She accused Democrats of “screaming at us and engaging in extremist and insurrectionist behaviour on the House floor”.

The Republican-led Senate briefly convened without debate on abortion.

“We are navigating an extremely complex, emotional and important area of law and policy,” said Ms Martinez, the Republican House whip.

“In my opinion, removing healthy babies from healthy mothers is not healthcare nor reproductive care. Pregnancy is not an illness. It should be celebrated. It is an abortion that terminates life.”

Teresa Martinez
Republican state representative Ms Martinez accused Democrats of ‘engaging in extremist and insurrectionist behaviour on the House floor’ (Matt York/AP)

Democratic legislators seized on national interest in the state’s abortion ban.

“We’ve got the eyes of the world watching Arizona right now,” said Democratic state representative Stephanie Stahl Hamilton.

“We know that the supreme court decision yesterday is extreme. And we know that should the 1864 ban on abortion remain a law in Arizona, people will die.”

Democratic governor Katie Hobbs called inaction on the proposed repeal unconscionable.

“Radical legislators protected a Civil War-era total abortion ban that jails doctors, strips women of our bodily autonomy and puts our lives at risk,” she said.

Volunteer signature gatherers watch as voter Grace Harders prepares to sign a petition that aims to enshrine the right to abortion in Arizona
A woman prepares to sign a petition that aims to enshrine the right to abortion in Arizona (Anita Snow/AP)

Three Republican legislators openly oppose the ban, including state representative Matt Gress, who made a motion on Wednesday to repeal the law.

In a statement, he said the near-total ban “is not reflective of the values of the vast majority of our electorate, regardless of political affiliation … This issue transcends all.”

Since the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade in 2022, most Republican-controlled states have started enforcing new bans or restrictions, and most Democratic-dominated ones have sought to protect abortion access.

Meanwhile, voters have sided with abortion rights supporters on statewide ballot measures in California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Ohio and Vermont.

By Press Association

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