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After blocking repeal, Sen. T.J Shope says there's still room for compromise on abortion

Republicans in Arizona are scrambling this week to figure out how to handle abortion in our state since the state Supreme Court upheld a 160-year-old law last week that bans nearly all abortions — without any exceptions for rape or incest. The decision has been met with anger and ridicule, and the GOP fears it will lose more elections over it in November.

After the decision came down, many pro-life Republicans spoke out against it, saying it should be repealed and the 15-week ban passed by the Legislature in 2022 put in its place. But when Democrats attempted to bring a repeal of the old law up for a vote last week, some of those same Republicans shut it down.

Sen. T.J. Shope, a Republican from Coolidge, is the Senate’s president pro tempore, and he was holding the gavel when the scene played out — even though he had released a statement the day before saying he *supported a repeal of the 1864 law."

He came into KJZZ studios on Monday to talk more about why.

After The Show spoke with Shope on Monday, an  internal Republican document was leaked that shows how the GOP could weaken support for a pro-abortion ballot measure that’s expected to be on the ballot in November by putting multiple abortion-related proposals in front of voters. 

TJ Shope
T.J. Shope at the Arizona State Capitol in 2023.

Full interview

T.J. SHOPE: Well, I think it's important to understand where you believe the, the people, where you believe the voters, in my statement last week lean pretty heavily into that about how it's not something obviously that we've never discussed. I think everybody had a conversation with people in their electorate after the Supreme Court, U.S. Supreme Court decision, so it's fresh on my mind and I was able to go ahead and reach back to that and say, look, I think that in the conversations that I've had, obviously you're going to have enact a total ban, you're going to have no restrictions whatsoever. But where, where can you find some common ground? And I think that's kind of where we, we ended up at. So then that's why I put the statement out saying, look, I think this is too much. Why don't we try to figure something else out?

LAUREN GILGER: So this seems like a 15-week ban seems like a middle of the road kind of path to you.

SHOPE: It's not only is it a middle of the road kind of path to me, but it also is something that when we were, when we are able to go ahead and repeal the outright ban, it's something that will at least be there. So from a procedural perspective, it's something that the law will just revert to, based on the 15-week language that was passed a couple of years ago.

GILGER: OK. So let's talk about that because you voted for that in 2022 the 15-week ban. It explicitly did not repeal this 1864 ban. In fact, it said that in language, it was pretty specific about that. The bill's sponsor has said that yes, that was the intent. I wonder, like, did you prefer a 15-week ban then even when you voted for this ban and explicitly allowed this other language in there.

SHOPE:  I think, yeah, I think the best thing at this point to take a time machine, if you have one, the DeLorean back to that time, Roe v Wade had not fallen. And I actually, even among the life community of which, you know, I talked to people on both sides of this thing, very few believe that it would fall entirely. They, the opinion at that time was either Alabama's law is going to be upheld or not. And that that was kind of where the, the die was cast and what the playing cards looked like at the time. So to say that, and I can't speak to the motivations of all of my colleagues, obviously, but to say that, you know, I disagreed with anything other than a 15-week. I think that's fair because that's what I had in front of me was able to vote on that particular language, the language in there referring to Roe falling, you know, if you're, if it hasn't happened yet, it's a theoretical. 

GILGER: So, so you kind of thought it would never come to this is what you're saying.

SHOPE: Yeah, I think that's pretty fair, you know, I was at the time voting on something that was right in front of me and that was a 15 week that I actually believed in and with the caveat of knowing that, or at least not believing that we would not only just not adopt the Alabama law as the federal law, but also that they would go a step further. 

GILGER: OK. So let's talk about what happened at the state Legislature last week. Democrats tried to bring up a vote to repeal that 1864 law something you've said you supported and you adjourned the session instead. Now they're filing an ethics complaint against you. They say that you violated the Senate's rules in not letting them speak. So did a Senate rules attorney. What's your reaction here?

SHOPE: Well, my reaction to that is if you ask a couple of attorneys, the same question, they're going to get a few different responses. This is my sixth year as the pro tempore of either the House or the Senate. And I feel pretty confident and where I stand on what the process was. The motion that was made is the highest motion that you can make. It was done in accordance with the rules. And the majority leader also added to his motion that the previous question would be moved, which essentially ends under procedures, any other ability for a secondary motion or a substitute motion to be made. That took precedent. We had a voice vote on it. It passed and, we were adjourned. If I had any regrets, I should have hit the gavel a little faster because in the confusion, I think people thought that they may have been recognized or were going to be recognized when, in fact, the legislative day had already ended.

GILGER: So why not allow for that vote to happen though? When you have said you support that?

SHOPE: I've still never seen what their motion was. They'd never shared it with me. Maybe they will at some point. But the reality is, is I believe that the House will go ahead and move that issue on Wednesday morning. Well, it'll be in our possession by the time we convene at 1:15 and there will be a motion made to go ahead and have a vote on it.

GILGER: What will you do when that happens?

SHOPE: I'll be voting yes. 


SHOPE: No doubt.

GILGER: So, OK, let's talk then about the kind of rift this seems to be exposing within the Republican Party because you've got some leaders at the state Legislature who are saying they will not vote to repeal this, this near total, ban. Others like you saying, you know, yeah, I will support a repeal of this, this is too far. Where does that leave you think the party itself and the platform of the party like is the, is the Republican Party going to continue to be a pro-life party?

SHOPE: Well, I think overall, if we've seen anything over, about Republicans myself, included, over the last decades that I've been involved in. And that is that there is a lot of free agency there always has been. And I think that maybe we're seeing it on this issue whereas in previous years, whenever there was not even a thought that, I mean, Roe was the law essentially for decades. It's easy to say when something is you think settled. Oh, well, this is what I will do differently. Or this is how I believe now that it's actually in front of you, you actually had to take those positions and you're seeing at this point, perhaps people that had those ideas, people that had positions on the issue now actually being forced to take that and express what their position is in a way that they really weren't going to or be able to before because it was in their minds anyway, a settled issue. So I think that long term, yes, absolutely it's a bigger conversation.

GILGER: Do you consider yourself pro-life? I mean, most abortions happen within that first 15 weeks.

SHOPE: Absolutely. I do. And I, and, and most definitely, it's something I, I have believed in and I still continue to, to believe in. And I frankly have told some of my colleagues who, if they are concerned about this, what do you think is going to happen with that November ballot measure if you're putting before the vote or a choice between an outright ban and the ballot measure that people are gathering signatures for right now and you are a adamant pro-life voter, you want me to go ahead and repeal this law. So that way it's at least something potentially palatable, whether it is or not remains to be seen, but at least the voters will have that option between either keeping if they vote no, what's on the books or, you know, having whatever the language is by the people that are gathering signatures right now.

GILGER: So this is like a pragmatic lesser of two evils kind of move for you.

SHOPE: Absolutely. Well, and it's something that I do mean it when I voted for 15, that's where I am. That's where I was and that's, you know, that's why I feel comfortable personally looking at myself in the mirror and saying, "OK, I think we can do this." 

GILGER: A 15 week ban, so you, you would consider that a pro-life position?

SHOPE: I do because, you know, if you are a pro-life person, you have to get the best deal on the table. It's like any other issue, in my mind anyway, that's available to you. You, if getting everything that you want cost you in the future, why would you take that short term for any reason at all whenever the long term would obviously be better with the deal that's on the table.

GILGER: So I have to ask the politics question then too because a lot of the chatter around this is that, you know, Republicans are changing their tunes on this because now it seems clear where the public lies on this and, and it's losing Republicans elections being, you know, for something like a near total ban. Is politics playing into this for you?

SHOPE: For me. No, I, I actually, if you look at the swing-ish districts, I'm of the lowest category of, of being potentially in that. I have won my race by double digits last time. Politically speaking, I'm not as concerned with that as I am about trying to make sure that since I am pro life, take the best option on the table to go ahead and, and try to ensure that there is some ability for regulation. Plus as a legislator and this would be for this issue this would be for any other issue when the voters decide on something it is extremely difficult to change. So, in general, from a practical standpoint of, of do I prefer legislative action versus ballot action? I always prefer legislative action because it allows lawmakers who are elected by the people to go ahead and actively conform Arizona law to what the popular sentiment is. 

GILGER: But are you also concerned as a Republican politician on the ballot this November that if that abortion initiative is there on the ballot, it's going to hurt Republicans.

SHOPE: I don't know of anybody that's involved in politics that isn't concerned about every election, every two years.

GILGER: State Sen. T.J. Scope joining us. Thank you for coming in. I appreciate it.

SHOPE: You bet. 

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.