Arizona House votes to repeal 1864 near-total abortion ban

The Arizona House of Representatives voted on Wednesday in favour of repealing the 160-year-old strict abortion ban that was set to take effect as early as June.

In a 32-29 vote, Republican legislators crossed party lines to join Democrats in reversing the highly controversial bill after two failed attempts.

Earlier this month the state’s Supreme Court upheld the law, enacted in 1864, outlawing nearly all forms of abortion with exceptions to save a mother’s life and making it a crime to help a woman obtain one.

The ruling sent the state into momentary chaos as residents denounced the decision and abortion providers scrambled to understand when it would take effect.

Lawmakers and politicians, including former president Donald Trump, criticised the decision. Many called on state legislators to repeal it.

The measure will now head to the Arizona Senate for a vote, though it could take some time before it is approved and sent to Governor Katie Hobbs. The earliest the Senate could vote is May 1 and the legislative branch will need at least two Republicans to side with every Democrat to push it forward.

Abortion rights supporters gather outside the Capitol (AP)
Abortion rights supporters gather outside the Capitol (AP)

The repeal comes after two previous attempts by Democratic lawmakers to bring forward a bill. Last week, Republicans blocked an effort to bring the bill forward – citing procedural grounds. Earlier this month, Republicans voted against another effort to repeal the Civil War-era law, resulting in a screaming match. 

The highly controversial 1864 ban was enacted before Arizona even obtained statehood. When the Supreme Court initially decided Roe in 1973, it overruled the state’s abortion law.

In preparation for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, the Arizona legislature enacted a 15-week abortion ban without first repealing the 1864 ban.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in 2021, the 1864 ban briefly took effect. Planned Parenthood Arizona challenged the decision which made its way to the state’s supreme court.

A ruling allowing the 160-year-old ban to take effect was unexpected.

As part of the nationwide outrage at the Arizona Supreme Court decision, California Governor Gavin Newsom said his state was working on emergency legislation to allow doctors to provide abortions in California.

Democrat Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, sponsor of repeal bill of 1864 Arizona abortion law, speaks to reporters during a press conference in Phoenix, Arizona (REUTERS)
Democrat Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, sponsor of repeal bill of 1864 Arizona abortion law, speaks to reporters during a press conference in Phoenix, Arizona (REUTERS)

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s president and CEO Angela Florez praised the House’s decision to repeal the ban, saying “We must celebrate today’s vote in support of abortion rights and harness our enthusiasm to spread the word and urge lawmakers in the Senate to support this necessary repeal bill.”

“Despite this step forward, Arizonans cannot stop fighting. Even with the repeal of the Civil War-era ban, the state will still have a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy that denies people access to critical care. And lawmakers continue to attack Arizonans’ ability to access reproductive health care. Our right to control our bodies and lives is hanging on by a thread,” Ms Florez added.

Arizona voters could be voting on a Constitutional amendment in November that would enshrine the right to abortion up to 24 weeks.