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Arizona Gov. Ducey signs bills limiting abortion, trans rights

Arizona’s Republican governor signed a series of bills Wednesday targeting abortion and transgender rights, joining a growing list of GOP-led states pursuing a conservative social agenda.

The measures signed by Gov. Doug Ducey will outlaw abortion after 15 weeks if the U.S. Supreme Court allows it, prohibit gender confirmation surgery for minors and ban transgender girls from playing on girls sports teams.

Bills targeting abortion and transgender rights have been popular with the conservative base in states where Republicans dominate but could be politically risky in a battleground state where Democrats have made significant inroads.

The Arizona abortion legislation mirrors a Mississippi law now being considered by the nation’s high court. The bill explicitly says it does not overrule a state law in place for more than 100 years that would ban abortion outright if the Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that enshrined the right to abortion in law.

“In Arizona, we know there is immeasurable value in every life — including preborn life,” Ducey said in a signing letter. “I believe it is each state’s responsibility to protect them.”

Ducey is an abortion opponent who has signed every piece of anti-abortion legislation that has reached his desk since he took office in 2015. He said late last year that he hoped the Supreme Court overturns the Roe decision.

Florida lawmakers passed a similar 15-week abortion ban early this month that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign.

Other states are considering similar bans or passing versions of a ban enacted in Texas last year that bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy that the Supreme Court has refused to block.

The president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona called the 15-week ban just the latest in a series of “unrelenting attacks” on a woman’s right to choose by Arizona Republicans.

According to the state’s Department of Health statistics, most Arizona abortions happen before 15 weeks anyway. But opponents say this law will affect low-income and rural residents. 

Meanwhile, Arizona joins a dozen other states with limits on sports participation for trans girls and becomes the third state to try and limit health care options for transgender teens. This measure bans doctors from performing "irreversible gender reassignment surgery'' on minors, even with parental permission. But Ducey says it does not outlaw puberty blockers.

Until two years ago, no state had passed a law regulating gender-designated youth sports. But the issue has become front and center in Republican-led statehouses since Idaho lawmakers passed the nation’s first sports participation law in 2020. That law is now blocked in court, along with another in West Virginia.

Republicans have said blocking transgender athletes from girls sports teams would protect the integrity of women’s sports, claiming that trans athletes would have an advantage. Ducey echoed that sentiment in his signing statement.

“Every young Arizona athlete should have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities that give them a sense of belonging and allow them to grow and thrive," Ducey said.

Many point to the transgender collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas, who won an individual title at the NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championship last week.

Ducey says this is about fairness. 

“There's no blocking or prohibition on co-ed sports. And it's a way where all can participate. But those that are in competitive environments can have a level playing field," Ducey said. 

But there are few trans athletes in Arizona schools. Since 2017, about 16 trans athletes have received waivers to play on teams that align with their gender identities out of about 170,000 high school athletes in the state, according to the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Critics said the legislation dehumanizes trans youth to address an issue that hasn’t been a problem. Just 16 transgender high school athletes have received waivers to play on the team that aligns with their gender identity in the last five years. They said decisions about health care should be left to trans children, their parents and their health care providers.

“We’re talking about legislating bullying against children who are already struggling just to get by,” Democratic Rep. Kelli Butler said during the House debate on the sports bill last week.

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Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.