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Republican leaders block, ignore efforts by Democrats to repeal AZ's 1864 abortion ban

Republican leaders of the Arizona House and Senate blocked or outright ignored efforts by legislative Democrats on Wednesday afternoon to repeal the state's 1864 law banning abortions except to save the life of the mother.

And that means it will be at least a week before lawmakers have the chance to address the question of whether women in Arizona will again be denied the right to terminate a pregnancy in all but the narrowest circumstances.

Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton told colleagues there is no reason to delay action in the wake of Tuesday's ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court declaring that a 2022 law allowing abortions until the 15th week of pregnancy did not override the 160-year-old statute. 

In its 4-2 ruling, the justices pointed out that lawmakers never repealed the old law.

But her request to bring the issue to the floor was sidelined by a motion by House Majority Leader Leo Biasucci (R-Lake Havasu City) to instead adjourn for the day. And House Majority Whip Teresa Martinez argued there was no need for a rush, pointing out that the soonest the old law could again take effect is in 60 days.

All Republicans save Rep. Matt Gress (R-Phoenix) sided with leadership. That left Stahl Hamilton one vote short of what she needed to even get the issue debated.

In the Senate, Republican leaders ignored efforts by Democrats to make a motion aimed at repealing the law in their chamber. In doing so, Democrats argued that Republicans violated Senate rules — and the chambers’ rules attorney agreed, though even then, there was nothing to be done. Republicans had already voted, like their counterparts in the House, to adjourn for the day.

How soon — if ever — the GOP might be willing to discuss the issue remains unclear, much less whether there are the necessary 31 votes in the House and 16 votes in the Senate to approve a repeal.

Martinez, a Casa Grade Republican, made it clear she is just fine with the old law.

"In my opinion, removing healthy babies from healthy mothers is not health care or reproductive care,'' she said. "Pregnancy is not an illness.''

But Stahl Hamilton said there are implications to allowing the old law to once again be enforced, something that has not happened since the U.S. Supreme Court, in its historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, concluded that women have a constitutional right to abortion.

"Should the 1864 law on abortion remain in Arizona, people will die,'' she said.

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Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.