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France 24
France 24

Arizona lawmakers in lower chamber vote to repeal Civil War-era abortion ban

Pro-abortion rights demonstrators rally in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 15, 2024. © Frederic J. Brown, AFP

Legislators in Arizona voted Wednesday to repeal an 1864 law that would have almost completely banned abortion in the battleground US state, after moderate Republicans broke ranks to side with Democrats.

The western state, which is a must-win for both President Joe Biden and his Republican rival Donald Trump in this year's White House race, jumped headlong into the divisive abortion rights debate this month when its supreme court ruled a 160-year-old law was enforceable.

That law, which was drafted long before Arizona became a state and before women had the right to vote, made it a criminal offense for anyone to carry out an abortion, and allowed for prison sentences of up to fiveyears for anyone convicted.

It made no exceptions for rape or incest.

The court ruled that because the state had never legislated for the right to abortion, its practice of allowing terminations up to the 15-week mark had been underpinned only by the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling by the US Supreme Court that had guaranteed reproductive freedoms across the country.

When the court -- it has three conservative justices appointed by Trump -- overturned that half-century-old ruling in 2022, Arizona had to revert to its original statutes, the state's court ruled.

The law had been due to come into effect in June, although the state's attorney general had vowed she would not allow anyone to be prosecuted under it.

The Arizona Senate, where Republicans also hold a majority, voted last week in favor of introducing a bill that would repeal the law, with a handful of moderates joining the Democratic side.

The bill will have to go through three readings in the upper chamber before it can become law, a process expected to take several weeks.

Republican Party leaders nationally had called on the state to moderate the ban, with Trump insisting it had gone "too far."

But local legislators were unmoved, and Wednesday's vote was only possible because three Republicans crossed the aisle.

While rural Arizona remains deeply conservative, the state's fast-growing cities increasingly put Democratic Party candidates in office.

The shifting balance of power is expected to be a huge factor in the presidential election. Biden won Arizona in 2020 by just a few thousand votes.


Wednesday's development is the latest chapter in a highly emotional debate that runs through American society, one that is expected to be consequential in November's presidential election.

Democrats have been quick to pounce when Republican-dominated states use the 2022 US Supreme Court ruling to make access to reproductive health care more difficult.

Biden's party is convinced that it is a winner with voters and will drive turnout at the ballot box.

They have tried to turn the spotlight on Trump, who appears stuck between boasting of his success in overturning Roe vs. Wade and suffering the consequences, which prove unpopular every time they are put to the electoral test.

Evangelical Christians, who make up a sizeable chunk of Trump's MAGA base, celebrate when abortion is restricted, even as opinion polls repeatedly show a clear majority of Americans are in favor of retaining the freedom in some form.


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