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Arizona Senate takes first step toward repealing 1864 abortion ban

Lawmakers in the Arizona Senate took a first step today toward repealing Arizona’s near-total ban on abortion that dates back to 1864.

Senate rules prohibit new legislation from being introduced this late in the legislative session, but Sen. Anna Hernandez (D-Phoenix) asked her colleagues to make an exception for a bill to repeal the near-total ban.

Democrats then won a procedural back-and-forth with Republicans opposed to the repeal after Sens. T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge), Shawnna Bolick (R-Phoenix) and Ken Bennett (R-Prescott) joined Democrats to block multiple motions by Sen. Anthony Kern (R-Glendale) to adjourn instead of introducing Hernandez’s bill.

→  Get more Arizona politics news

Shope and Bolick then voted alongside Democrats to approve Hernandez’s request to introduce the bill, while Bennett and all other Republicans voted against the request.

But that is just the first step in what could be a weeks-long process to vote on the repeal.

The vote to introduce the bill specifically directed the Senate to take a procedural step, called a “first read,” on Wednesday and a vote, called a “third read,” two days after that. But because the Arizona legislature is currently only meeting on Wednesdays, that vote likely won’t take place for at least two weeks.

No such progress was made in the House, where Republicans for the second week in a row blocked efforts there to take a vote on a bill to repeal the 1864 ban that had already been introduced earlier this year.

Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton (D-Tucson) says Democrats like her won’t give up.

“I think folks need not be discouraged. I think the will of the people has been made known and I just think that we need to stay the course, be steady and keep up the hard work,” she said.

GOP House Speaker Ben Toma (R-Peoria) says he opposes repealing the law, and won’t allow any movement on bills to change Arizona's abortion laws without the consent of a majority of the Republican Caucus.

“Some of us in fact believe that abortion is in fact the murder of children,” Toma said, during one of the procedural votes.

He also argued that by altering the rules to bring Stahl Hamilton’s bill directly to the floor, there wouldn’t be a chance for public comment.

A week later, a new outcome

Last week, Shope had sided with his Republican Senate colleagues and shot down efforts to repeal the state’s abortion ban.  Shope was leading the chamber that day and adjourned over the Democrats’ objections. 

Shope said Wednesday that his votes were different because there was actually a bill in front of him.

“I was not aware of any motion from last week. So, today was the first day I became aware. So, if you have something in front of you, you go ahead and do it as long as it’s in order,” he said.

Bolick did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bennett said he doesn’t want to repeal the 1864 abortion ban, but that he also wants to support Shope and Bolick. 

“We need to get that vote taken care of, and just delaying it by recessing or adjournments or whatever, I didn’t feel that those were appropriate, and that’s why I stood with the two of them,” Bennett said.

Bennett said that he wants Arizona law to include exceptions for rape, incest and fetal viability problems, as well as a ban on abortions set at roughly eight or 10 weeks. But if his only option is the near-total ban, Bennett says he’ll support it.

“Right now my priority is to get this bill out of the Senate and over to the House,” Anna Hernandez said. 

In the House, Rep. Matt Gress (R-Phoenix) was the lone Republican to vote with Democrats in  in their failed effort to force a vote to repeal. That motion failed on a 30-30 tie.

“The eyes of the nation are on Arizona and it’s our responsibility to carry out the will of the people and it’s pretty clear to me that the people want the territorial ban repealed,” Gress said after the vote.

Criticism from the right

Shope, Gress and Bolick faced criticism from conservative groups like the Center for Arizona Policy, who celebrated the abortion ban and  called today’s proceedings a “victory for life, even if only temporary.”

The group called them out by name for not keeping their “promise to protect the unborn.”

“Those who promise to protect life as a candidate should stand for life as a lawmaker,” the statement said.

On Wednesday, anti-abortion advocates in the House gallery heckled Gress when he voted to allow the repeal bill to be heard, calling him a “traitor.” 

“I’m doing this because I think it’s the right thing to do. I’m not doing it to curry favor with anybody. If I was doing that, I’m not doing a very good job at it apparently,” Gress said following his vote. House Republican Rep. David Cook (R-Globe) said he is also in favor of a repeal, but voted with most Republicans to block a debate and vote on repeal. Cook later said he wants to put up a plan that would alter a separate 15-week abortion ban, approved by Republicans in 2022, to include exceptions for rape and incest.

“We all know what’s going to happen in the end, I believe,” Cook said. “Leaving the status quo is just not a plan.” 

Earlier this week, a  slideshow prepared by House Republican attorneys was leaked to the public. It showed a two-part plan to put Democrats in a defensive position on abortion. The plan involved sending multiple proposals to the ballot in November to undermine a citizen-led initiative to codify a right to abortion in the state Constitution.

That document did not mention repealing the old law, but Cook said “a repeal is part of the discussion.” 

He said a separate document prepared by House attorneys that includes those discussions was not leaked to the press. 

“I think in two weeks we’re going to have a much better idea as a caucus of where we’re going,” Cook said.

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Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.