Arizona Republicans Relent On Draconian Abortion Law

[ Posted Wednesday, April 24th, 2024 – 15:25 UTC ]

Arizona Republicans (a few of them, at any rate) just pushed back against the extremist forced-birth movement within their party, in a big way. The lower house in the Arizona legislature just passed a measure that will repeal the state's Draconian abortion law. This is the law that was written during the Civil War and only had one exception in it: abortions were permitted to save the life of the mother. Rape and incest victims weren't included. Abortions were prohibited -- complete with a jail sentence for the doctor -- from Week Zero. This is precisely the type of law the most extreme forced-birthers want to see nationwide, it bears mentioning. If your position is that abortion equals murder, then there is no justification for any abortion that isn't done to save the mother's life, period. So to have Republicans cast the deciding votes to repeal such a measure is a very big deal, because it is the first time since the Dobbs decision was handed down that a Republican-run legislature has voted to relax forced-birth laws.

The motives behind such a move are pretty transparent. The three Republicans who voted with all of the Democrats did so for reasons of self-preservation. They thought (quite rightly) that their chances of being re-elected in their moderate districts would improve if they supported getting rid of this law. In fact, they may have improved the chances of the Republican Party at large in the state, although the Republicans who voted to keep the Civil War law in place probably don't see it that way.

The dynamics of the situation are unique, since there is a lot at play here. Arizona had this archaic law on the books, but then the courts put it on hold once Roe v. Wade was tossed out by the Supreme Court. Arizona lawmakers passed a much less restrictive abortion law which outlawed abortions after 15 weeks, with the usual exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. That law has been in place throughout all of this. But then the state supreme court decided that the Civil War law was still enforceable and valid, which forced the issue in the legislature. The court's decision hasn't gone into effect yet, but will in a little over a month. Meanwhile, pro-choice activists collected signatures for a ballot measure which would restore the Roe standard of "viability" -- abortions will be legal up until 22 to 24 weeks.

The ballot measure is what really put the pressure on the Republican legislators. Polling shows it is quite likely to pass, which would remove the issue from the legislature's hands entirely (since abortion rights would be enshrined in the state's constitution). So they faced the prospect of supporting a zero-week abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest victims versus restoring Roe. That's a pretty drastic difference. Now, however, if the repeal does get signed into law, they can argue that a vote against the ballot measure will just leave the 15-week ban in place (which is much less Draconian). It remains to be seen how effective this will be (the ballot measure may easily pass anyway), but it's certainly a much easier political argument to make to the voters ("15 weeks versus 24 weeks," instead of having to defend "zero weeks, with no rape or incest exception").

The issue threatened to flip the entire Arizona government blue, but now Republicans stand a much better chance of avoiding at least a total wipeout. Arizona is a swing state in the presidential election too, so this could help the GOP remain competitive there as well.

Of course, as I mentioned, the GOP extremists on the issue don't see it that way. They are incensed at their fellow Republicans for not supporting the Draconian ban. But not every Republican is that extreme, including some very big names. Donald Trump has taken a very transactional attitude when it comes to abortion, openly speaking of how going too far on the issue can hurt Republicans at the ballot box. Kari Lake, a fervent follower of Trump who is running for a Senate seat, flip-flopped hard on the issue after the state supreme court ruled on the old law. She used to call the law "great" and wholeheartedly supported it, but once the court ruled she changed her tune in a big way and actually started lobbying Arizona Republicans in the legislature to vote to repeal it. Both Trump and Lake know full well how much this issue could hurt their chances of winning Arizona, plain and simple.

This may in fact be the start of a general retreat on the abortion issue for the Republican Party as a whole. More and more Republicans are coming to the same conclusion as Trump and Lake: going too far on abortion laws hurts the GOP at the ballot box. This may, on occasion, mean that Republicans have to actually vote against Draconian bans, no matter how much it infuriates the extremists within their own party.

Last week, Democrats tried to move the repeal bill forward in both chambers of the statehouse. In both, they needed two Republicans to vote with them. They did achieve this (on a procedural vote) in the senate. But they only got a single GOP vote in the house of representatives, meaning the measure was blocked. Today, they got three Republican votes -- one more than was necessary. With the senate already on record supporting the bill, it is likely to pass at the earliest opportunity (which, due to parliamentary reasons, probably won't happen before May 1st). The Democratic governor has indicated that she will sign the bill whenever it gets to her desk.

This may set up a legal rollercoaster for the rest of the year, though. The Civil War law was due to go back into effect on June 8th, but laws that pass the legislature usually don't take effect for 90 days. So there may be a couple of months where the Civil War era law is technically in force, before the state reverts to the 15-week ban (after the repeal law goes into effect). This 15-week ban will then be in effect until November, when the voters get to have their say. If they vote to enshrine the protections of Roe in the state constitution, then that will be that -- all the bans will be null and void.

The Republicans who voted for the repeal today have definitely improved their chances of getting re-elected, and improved the chances of the Republican Party overall in Arizona. Rather than having to defend the Draconian position of "no abortions" versus the limits of Roe, they can now appear more moderate with their 15-week ban. Democratic challengers to the state legislators won't be able to tie the Civil War law like an albatross around their necks. They may have a chance of retaining political control of one or both of the legislative chambers -- a much higher chance than if they hadn't repealed the old law.

Such self-preservation may become increasingly acceptable within Republican ranks, especially since Donald Trump himself is leading the way towards moderation on the issue within the party. Abortion is still going to be a potent issue in the 2024 election -- both in Arizona and nationwide -- and the Democratic position (of going back to Roe) is a lot more popular than telling a teenage rape victim she has to give birth. Some Republicans are realizing this in a big way, and one can only hope that over time (as abortion rights win at the ballot box in state after state) this trend will only continue.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


One Comment on “Arizona Republicans Relent On Draconian Abortion Law”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    Arizona Republicans Relent On Draconian Abortion Law

    Do you think it's because they're afraid of losing in 2024 or because some of them just got indicted for crimes they committed in the 2020 election wherein they knowingly conspired with the Trump campaign in order to illegally award the electors of their state to the big loser? And filmed it? Rhetorical questions.

    This is the law that was written during the Civil War and only had one exception in it: abortions were permitted to save the life of the mother.

    Who could in 1864 legally be a 10-year-old child.

    Rape and incest victims weren't included.

    Not fair to 9 year olds.

    The three Republicans who voted with all of the Democrats did so for reasons of self-preservation.

    Many of their fellow Republicans were mad as hell:

    We're willing to kill infants to win an election. Put in that context, it's a little harder to stomach. Politics is important, but it's not worth our souls.

    ~ Scottsdale Rep. Alexander Kolodin

    Somebody should seriously explain to these puritanical uneducated morons that a zygote/embryo/fetus isn't the equivalent of an "infant." It's been said many times that "you can't fix stupid," but somebody in Arizona should at least try.

    On a related note, in a hearing at the Supreme Court today, Justice Alito (and others) repeatedly refers to a fetus as a "child" or "unborn child" as if an embryo/fetus is the equivalent of a "child" when it medically and demonstrably is not. The problem here is that medically uneducated legislators (and not doctors of medicine) are making decisions based on their religious beliefs and not actual medical science. Rant over.

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