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Arizona Abortion Rights May Come Down To The Next Governor

The president's choice for a new Supreme Court justice on Monday may mean the ability for Arizona women to terminate a pregnancy will depend on who is elected governor in November.

In picking a replacement for Anthony Kennedy, the president tilts the philosophical balance of the high court. More significantly to some, it could provide the crucial five votes to overturn the historic Roe v. Wade decision that said women have a constitutional right to abortion.

That could return the legal landscape to where it was before 1973, where each state gets to decide whether to allow abortion and under what circumstances.

At this point in the gubernatorial campaign, the division over abortion rights is breaking down along party lines.

All three Democratic contenders have vowed to block any effort to impose abortion restrictions.

"I've seen first-hand the kinds of devastating situations that people find themselves in and how important it is for women to have all of the options available to them and to be able to make their own decision,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kelly Fryer.

Steve Farley cited his own 12-year record of voting against limits on abortion in the legislature.

"I'll be standing against any attempt to put government in between a woman and her doctor,'' he said.

Candidate David Garcia also said he was for abortion rights, but pointed out it may not be that simple.

The pre-1973 laws making abortion illegal are still on the books, but federal judges have struck down Arizona’s restrictions in the past. So the wording of a possible high court decision would be crucial.

"If Roe v. Wade is overturned, we've got to figure out which of those laws are applicable and enforceable,'' Garcia said.

Arizona, unlike other states, does not have a "trigger'' statute, one that would automatically enact — or reenact — new restrictions on abortions if the Supreme Court gives states that power.

Incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey did not say whether he would sign or veto legislation to outlaw all abortions.

"This is very hypothetical,'' he said.

But his press aide Daniel Scarpinato, said Ducey "is pro-life, and his record reflects that.''

That record includes signing every abortion restriction that reached his desk since taking office in 2015 and inking his approval of a measure locking Planned Parenthood out of a program that allows state employees to donate to nonprofit organizations through payroll deductions.

Ken Bennett, Ducey's GOP primary foe, touted his own record of supporting abortion restrictions in his eight years in the state Senate.

"I'm definitely pro-life,'' he said. "I do not support abortion other than a few exceptions [like] the life of the mother.''

In regard to exceptions for rape and incest, Bennett said there have to be curbs to ensure "that they have to be reported and it's really a valid situation that happened rather than just an excuse given.''

Bennett said one key to fewer abortions is fewer unintended pregnancies, which is why he does not favor restrictions on access to contraceptives.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

Claire Caulfield was a reporter and Morning Edition producer at KJZZ from 2015 to 2019.