Arizona lawmakers vote to retain law protecting life at conception

baby Credit: Jill Sauve/Unsplash

Arizona House Republicans blocked two attempts on Wednesday to repeal an 1864 law protecting life at conception.

In a near party-line 30-30 vote on Wednesday, House Democrats failed to gain a majority of votes to suspend the Legislature’s rules to fast-track a so-called “abortion ban repeal” bill that would have overturned the 1864 pro-life law

Dormant since being invalidated by Roe v. Wade in 1973, the 1864 law protects all unborn life from conception and imposes prison time for those who “provide, supply, or administer” an abortion. 

This temporarily stalls ongoing efforts to repeal the law, which is set to go into effect in the next 37 days.

Debate on the House floor was tense just before the vote as Democrats called the pro-life law “abhorrent” and “archaic.” 

Democratic Rep. Alma Hernandez bashed Republicans, saying that “the fact that we will not even entertain a motion to allow those who have been raped or pregnant by incest to be able to have an abortion is extremely, extremely disappointing.” 

Republican Rep. Ben Toma, meanwhile, said: “I understand that we have deeply held beliefs [about abortion], and I would ask everyone in this chamber to respect the fact that some of us believe that abortion is in fact the murder of children.” 

Abortion is currently legal in Arizona until the 15th week of pregnancy. If the 1864 law takes effect, however, all abortion will be illegal, except in cases in which the mother’s life is in danger. 

Outrage from abortion advocates erupted last week when the Arizona Supreme Court issued an April 9 ruling that cleared the way for the law to go back into effect. The court ruled that since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe in the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson decision, there were no legal reasons to keep the law from being enforced.

Planned Parenthood is continuing abortions in Arizona for the time being. The abortion organization holds that a separate ruling by the Maricopa County Superior Court keeps the 1864 law from being enforced until 45 days after the high court’s ruling. 

After the state Supreme Court’s ruling, Democrats in the Arizona House moved quickly to repeal the law, demanding a vote on the measure on April 10. That attempt was also blocked by Republicans. After their efforts to repeal the law were blocked, Democrats began shouting “shame” and “blood on your hands” at their Republican colleagues on the House floor.

This comes as Arizona will likely be one of several states considering an abortion-until-birth amendment on the ballot this November. If passed, the amendment would enshrine a “right” to abortion in the state constitution, strike down virtually all of Arizona’s pro-life protections, and legalize abortion until viability and through all nine months of pregnancy for physical or mental health reasons.

The group advocating for the amendment, Arizona for Abortion Access PAC, has surpassed the required number of signatures and already filed language with the state to include the proposal on the November ballot.

The Arizona secretary of state’s office has yet to verify the signatures, which must happen before the initiative will officially be on the ballot.

The Arizona Catholic Conference, which consists of the state’s four bishops, has spoken out against the ballot initiative, saying that it would “remove most safeguards for girls and women” and “allow for painful late-term abortions of viable preborn babies.” 

“We do not believe that this extreme initiative is what Arizona wants or needs, and we continue to pray that it does not succeed,” the Arizona bishops said in a statement published April 9.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 11,530 babies were killed through abortion in Arizona in 2022. 

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