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Anti-abortion leader Cathi Herrod pushes Arizona GOP to hold their ground on near-total ban

Arizona lawmakers will be back at the Capitol on Wednesday with another attempt to repeal the 1864 abortion ban that the Arizona Supreme Court reinstated earlier this month. 

The Senate appears poised to repeal the near-total ban on abortions — and all eyes are on a few GOP members in the House who may go against party leadership and do the same. But, most Republicans at the state Capitol are refusing to move to get rid of the ban — even after former President Donald Trump said the law went too far and should be fixed. He also recently changed his position on abortion, saying the states should decide the issue.

The tides seem to be changing for many anti-abortion Republicans after the fall of Roe v. Wade as public opinion on the issue has become clear: Most Americans support abortion rights and have voted to protect them — even in red states. 

Cathi Herrod has been a powerful anti-abortion voice at the state Capitol for decades — and is pushing lawmakers now to stay in line and not repeal the near-total ban. Herrod is the president of the Center for Arizona Policy. The Show spoke with her more about the shifts within the GOP since the Dobbs decision, efforts to repeal the law — and what’s next for the anti-abortion movement in this new political reality.

Full interview

CATHI HERROD: Well, the reason the repeal matters is that in the pro-life community, for us, this is about a deeply held conviction that the abortion issue is about protecting the lives of unborn children and sparing their mothers the harms and heartaches of having an abortion. So that's why we are fighting the repeal. That's why we believe that, that's why we have stood for many years for the pre-Roe law.

What we have done is called on lawmakers to keep their promise to the voters. These are pro-life lawmakers who on voter guide questions in 2022 and many throughout their career have said that they were pro-life, that they opposed abortion unless necessary to save the life of the mother. Maybe some other exceptions, that now the voters voted for them, but on that basis, and the voters are simply asking them to keep their word.

LAUREN GILGER: It's interesting. I've spoken with one or two of these lawmakers and they've said this, I think in other media that yes, they consider themselves pro-life, they're looking for what they would call a common ground on something like a 15-week abortion ban. And that, you know, they say, this is what my constituents clearly want. Do you think that's the case?

HERROD: No, I don't. A 15-week limit when, you know, people stop and think about that, a 15-week limit would allow 95% of abortions to happen. That's not where I believe the American people are, the Arizona voter is. And so, you have to stop and think that a 15-week limit still allows 95% of abortions to happen. That's not a pro-life position. The only reason for the 15-week limit in the first place was at the time, it was all that the Arizona Legislature could do, because Roe v. Wade was still in place.

GILGER: So let's talk a little bit about the shifts on, on this issue that we have seen since the Dobbs decision. There have been changes in the Republican party and leading people in the Republican party. The presidential nominee for the Republican Party, Donald Trump and the leading GOP candidate for the Senate in Arizona, Kari Lake, have both come out against this ban. They say, you know, it goes too far, that it should be repealed. It should include exceptions for rape or incest, they have said. It seems that they, you know, like many are, are looking at where the electorate is on this. Lake even said that in her statement on the ban. So what do you think of the of the shifts that are happening and the candidates changing positions on this issue in light of the Dobbs decision and the, and the political kind of reality that has settled in since then?

HERROD: Well, if you claim to be pro-life, then your position should be what it's always been. That our goal, our, our heart is to protect the lives of unborn children and spare their mothers the harms of abortion. You know, after Roe is overturned in some ways, I think many in the pro-life movement feel like, OK, now we're finding out who's really pro-life and who's not. Was it, was it convenient to be pro-life? Only when Roe was in place, and states were limited in what they could do to regulate abortion? You know, this is still ultimately more than anything, it's still about babies and their moms.

GILGER: Would you call these, I think you've called them elsewhere, sort of political calculations?

HERROD: Well, protecting unborn life is not a political calculation and it should not be. You'll have to ask those who are making that calculation if it's all politics or where they're at. I do not believe that the the outcome of the election in November will be determined solely on the basis of abortion. The Arizona voter is still looking at what's happening on border security, on inflation. I mean, anyone who's buying gas or paying rent or buying groceries every week knows what's happening to the cost of living and that, that's gonna be uppermost on Arizona voters minds. So you can't, you know, the, the kind of fear tactic that somehow abortion is going to flip the Legislature or it's going to decide the election? I don't believe, I don't see the evidence that backs that up.

GILGER: So, I mean, a lot of that political opinions behind that, right, are pointing toward polling in Arizona that shows that most people, you know, would support some kind of access to abortion. Do you disagree with the polling? Do you think that, that the electorate really is more pro-life?

HERROD: Well, the polling that I've seen shows that 70% to 80% of Arizonans still support reasonable restrictions on abortion. I mean, I think that that's what we're looking at. So, and I think those polls, even those who may favor unregulated or unrestricted abortion, they're still concerned about border security and the cost of living.

GILGER: Would you consider something like a 15-week ban that many in the GOP have supported a reasonable restriction on abortion?

HERROD: Fifteen weeks is not a reasonable restriction on abortion because it allows 95% of abortions to happen.

GILGER: What about, Cathi, the pro-life take on the new position staked out by presidential candidate Donald Trump recently, about sending the issue essentially back to the states?

HERROD: When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, they said that this was a matter for the people through their elected representatives. They did not say only their elected representatives at the state level. Abortion is both a federal and a state issue. I believe that is clear. It's not only an issue for states.

GILGER: So you think that you would support a presidential candidate or want to support a presidential candidate that would support and push for some kind of federal ban?

HERROD: Yes, I, I don't think that a hodgepodge of 50 states having 50 different laws on abortion works when it's a matter of this urgency, when this is a matter of human life and that a chief aim of government should be to be to protect the most vulnerable among us, starting with unborn children.

GILGER: So does the sort of recent shift that's happened in many of these leading GOP candidates change or affect the way you might and your organization might endorse candidates heading forward into this election.

HERROD: I've made no decisions on endorsement. Our, our goal, our focus right now is simply on presenting voters the pro-life position.

GILGER: So, I want to ask you lastly a few kind of big picture questions about the pro-life movements. You've been involved in it for so long in our state. And as we've discussed here, it seems to be shifting recently because of the Dobbs decision and because of the aftermath of that, the political aftermath of that. Where do you see the future of the pro-life movement heading? Like, do you still see it as something that is embraced wholeheartedly by the GOP as it has for so long, or do you think it's going to become something a little different?

HERROD: Time will tell. The pro-life movement is stronger than ever. There are very few movements that have survived and grown and thrived in the way that the pro-life movement has. That Roe v. Wade was certainly a catalyst and that the pro-life movement is stronger than ever today. And we will continue to advocate for babies and their mothers. The pro-life movement is not going anywhere.

And I think the more you know, all of us know so much who's had an abortion. And if we stop and think about it, it wasn't the best answer for the woman. And I think that will continue to grow, whether it's ultrasound technology proving the humanity of the unborn child or it's the harms of abortion to women. I believe that we will only continue to grow as the, as more and more people certainly realize the truth.

KJZZ’s The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio record. 

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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.