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Senate Democrats to file ethics complaint after GOP blocks Arizona abortion law repeal

Democrats in the Arizona Senate plan to file an ethics complaint against Republican leaders who blocked their attempt to repeal the state’s near-total abortion ban.

When the Senate met on Wednesday, Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein (D-Tempe) and Anna Hernandez (D-Phoenix) attempted to introduce a bill to repeal the state’s abortion ban that dates back to 1864.

But President Pro Tempore T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge), who was presiding over the chamber at the time, ignored their motions and instead adjourned the Senate’s session until next week.

This is completely out of order,” Epstein said as Shope adjourned the session. 

At the time, a Senate rules attorney confirmed that the Republican tactic violated the Senate’s rules. 

In a press release, Senate Democrats say Epstein and Sen. Lela Alston will file an ethics complaint next week against Shope and Senate President Warren Petersen for violating those rules.

Petersen said he disagreed with the rules attorney's interpretation, and he called Democrats’ plan to file an ethics complaint “absurd.”

Senate rules attorney Chris Kleminich declined to comment.

“Not even logical that a complaint could be filed against me as I was not in the chair,” Petersen said in a text message. “The [President Pro Tempore] was and he didn’t violate any rules.”

Shope, who said he would like to repeal the near-total ban in favor of the state’s 15-week abortion ban, said he has not spoken to the Senate rules office about whether he broke the rules. But he pointed out that several Democratic senators were absent that day, making it unlikely they would have enough votes to pass the repeal.

Senate records show three Democrats were absent on Wednesday.

“My only response is that she oughta be filing ethics complaints against her own members for not showing up to work to do what the people sent us down there for,” Shope said.

Epstein disagreed, saying she believed enough Republicans would have voted for the measure if given the opportunity.

“Even with our missing Democrats, our knowledge is we could pass the repeal of the 1864 ban if they just had the nerve to show up, and speak up, and be here and, and be respectful of us,” Epstein said Wednesday.

The Arizona House and Senate will not meet again until Wednesday, April 17.

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.