Arizona Republicans Gleefully Shoot Down Democrats’ Attempts To Repeal 1864 Abortion Ban

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 29: Arizona Republican U.S. Senate candidate and far-right election denier Kari Lake (Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)
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Arizona Republicans celebrated Wednesday after swatting down Democrats’ fourth attempt in two weeks to repeal the state’s near-total abortion ban, which the state Supreme Court upheld last week. 

Rep. David Livingston (R-AZ) turned to the galleries, stuffed with a mix of pro- and anti-abortion rights protesters, and applauded his supporters, raising his fists in triumph. Majority Whip Teresa Martinez (R-AZ) mouthed “we got you” and did a thumbs up. Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci (R-AZ) grinned and accepted a handshake on his way out of the chamber. 

“They were posing for their far-right base,” scoffed Assistant Minority Leader Oscar De Los Santos (D-AZ), calling TPM from the House floor minutes after the last procedural vote failed. 

Arizona Democrats, capitalizing on the national attention the state received after the court upheld perhaps the most draconian ban in the country, had, this week and last, attempted to get their often-introduced repeal bill onto the floor. They were hoping that a few vulnerable Republicans, fearful of the electoral retribution anti-abortion measures have wrought, would cross over to vote with them. Arizona Senate Democrats plan to push to repeal effort too.

On Wednesday, Rep. Matt Gress (R-AZ) crossed over to help Democrats advance the bill — but only did so at the last possible moment, typically a sign that a politician wants to be on the record voting one way but without the risk of being the last needed yes vote. Both votes failed with a 30-30 tie. 

“One vote would make the entire difference here,” De Los Santos said. “We’re exploring every option; we have to get this thing repealed. A number of Republicans in public and private support repealing it, then come in here and vote in the exact opposite way.” 

He said Democrats are having conversations with Republicans who “purport” to oppose the 1864 abortion ban, but said they’ve been told that Republicans generally “will oppose any effort to advance the bill in any form.” 

That may prove unwelcome news for national Republicans, who are already scrambling to distance themselves from the ban, and to dilute the potency of an amendment to protect abortion rights, which organizers are working to get on the Arizona ballot this fall. Many, including Donald Trump and U.S. Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake in Arizona, have called on the legislature to soften the court’s ruling. That Lake, who has consistently cheered anti-abortion measures including the 1864 ban, and Trump, who takes credit for forming the Dobbs Supreme Court regularly, now oppose the ban reveals abortion’s political salience. 

State Republicans have concocted some measures to defang the ballot initiative, according to a document accidentally emailed out earlier this week by a Republican staffer. The PowerPoint deck includes “phase one,” where legislators put a proposal on the ballot that would aim to give them power to continue to restrict abortion — seemingly in contradiction to the amendment — hidden under a name like the “Arizona Abortion Protection Act.” 

The presentation points out that voters would read the proposal first on the ballot if legislators got it in before the abortion rights organizers finish collecting signatures. 

It cheers that the plan might take away votes from the true abortion-rights initiative, but lists as a con that it would “transfer regulation of abortion from the Legislature to voters.” 

In option two, the legislators would put bans on the ballot, including a 15 and six-week one. “In reality, it’s a 14-week law disguised as a 15-week law because it would only allow abortion until the beginning of the 15th week,” the presentation says. 

Another alternative, if the abortion-rights proposal passes, is to push for “conditional enactment,” which would amend the constitution to allow for a whole slate of abortion restrictions notwithstanding the new right. One of the bullet points listed is the “mitigation of fetal pain” which Republican lawmakers have traditionally used as pseudoscientific pretext to pass restrictive bans.

The level of duplicitousness underscores the danger for Republicans that the abortion initiative poses, in a state where both a Senate seat and electoral votes will be hotly contested. And the ban is already having an impact: Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election prognosticator, on Wednesday shifted the Arizona Senate race from toss-up to “leans Democratic.”

“The choice could not be more clear: If you support a law forces that forces a 12-year-old who’s been raped to give birth, then vote Republican,” De Los Santos said. “If you support repealing it and bringing the state into the 21st century, then vote Democrat. It’s that simple: 1864 vs. 2024.” 

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