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Arizona legislature votes to repeal the state's Civil War-era ban on abortion


Arizona lawmakers have repealed an abortion law from the Civil War.


That 1864 law is older than the state of Arizona and bans almost all abortions. It became a center of national debate when Arizona state Supreme Court said it was still in effect. The Arizona Legislature has narrowly voted to repeal it. A few Republicans joined all Democrats to make a majority, but the law is not quite entirely dead.

INSKEEP: Ben Giles with member station KJZZ in Phoenix is covering this. Hey there, Ben.


INSKEEP: How'd it go yesterday in the Arizona state Senate?

GILES: Oh, it was feisty. The gallery was packed with abortion rights supporters and lots of opponents. Debate was interrupted at times by cheers and jeers. Republicans hold a narrow one-vote majority in that chamber, but two Republicans bucked that majority, joined all of Senate Democrats to repeal the territorial ban 16-14. Democrats, like Senator Eva Burch, said it's archaic and it's not what the majority of Arizonans want.


EVA BURCH: I don't want us honoring laws about women written during a time when women were forbidden from voting because their voices were considered inferior to men.

GILES: Similar legislation also passed the House last week, another close vote in a chamber controlled by Republicans. And Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs' office says she'll sign that bill this afternoon.

INSKEEP: Ben, I'm interested that the vast majority of Republicans stuck with this 1864 ban, even though many national figures in their party had said this is too extreme, it's not a political winner, we should get rid of it.

GILES: Yeah, this has really revealed a schism in the Republican Party in Arizona. You saw national leaders, like former President Donald Trump - they've called on Republican state lawmakers to fix the law, to repeal it. But rank-and-file Republicans, like Senator Jake Hoffman - he leads the local version of the Freedom Caucus - they weren't listening to Trump. He said the 1864 ban was great.


JAKE HOFFMAN: Our job as humans, our job as people is to defend and protect the most vulnerable, to defend and protect those who can't speak for themselves.

INSKEEP: Well, if he likes the 1864 law, I should note that we said it's not quite entirely dead. So what law does apply in Arizona from now on?

GILES: Well, the intent of repealing the 1864 ban is to let another 15-week law passed in 2022 stay in effect. But the law that Governor Hobbs is about to sign, it won't take effect for more than 90 days, so the near total ban could at least temporarily be in place. Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes and Planned Parenthood Arizona have both asked the state Supreme Court to prevent that from happening.

INSKEEP: OK, so the almost total ban might take effect for a minute. Eventually, it becomes a 15-week ban. And that sets the stage for the fall campaign, which will partly be about abortion, won't it?

GILES: Right. There's an effort in the field in Arizona. Folks are gathering signatures for a ballot measure to allow abortion to the point of fetal viability, up to roughly 24 weeks. That's similar to Florida's November ballot measure that was covered here yesterday. The Arizona measure has already got more than enough signatures to qualify, but complicating things are Republican state lawmakers, who may refer other questions about abortion, like a 14-week ban, to the ballot. A leaked memo from GOP legislative staff here said that's all part of an effort to dilute support for the proposed 24-week ban.

INSKEEP: OK, Ben Giles of KJZZ, thanks so much.

GILES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Ben Giles