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Arizona House votes to repeal near-total abortion ban; heads to Senate next

Three Republican representatives joined all Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives to pass a bill to repeal the state’s near-total abortion ban after weeks of stonewalling by GOP leaders.

Reps. Matt Gress (R-Phoenix), Timothy Dunn (R-Yuma) and Justin Wilmeth (R-Phoenix) voted with Democrats to pass Tucson Democratic Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton’s  House Bill 2677, which would repeal the near-total ban that was reinstated by the Arizona Supreme Court on April 9. 

“We know that the majority of Arizonans are with us on this,” Stahl Hamilton said. 

The bill now awaits a vote in the Senate. If passed into law, a 15-week abortion law – passed by Republicans in 2022 that was in effect before the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling – would again be the law of the land.

Stahl Hamilton said the repeal prevents the state from “going backwards” and that she believes voters will approve a ballot initiative to enshrine the right to abortion in the state Constitution.

The House vote marks a significant victory for Democrats and abortion access advocates, who have fought an uphill battle at the Capitol for weeks to bring Stahl-Hamilton’s bill to a vote over the objections of House Speaker Ben Toma (R-Peoria), a vocal opponent of the repeal.

Procedural rules in the House usually block lawmakers from introducing bills that aren’t supported by the speaker, and Democrats needed at least two Republicans on board to override Toma and bring the bill to a vote. Those efforts failed last week after only Gress crossed the aisle. But Dunn joined Gress on Wednesday, giving the repeal effort enough votes to bring the bill to a vote.

“I fervently disagree with my Democrat colleagues who advocate for extremism through unlimited, unrestricted, and unregulated abortions,” Toma said in a statement.

The House vote is not the final step to repeal the 1864 law, though. The Arizona Senate needs to pass a repeal, which Democrats introduced last week with the help of two Republicans, before the bill can reach Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs’ desk. The soonest that vote can happen is next Wednesday. 

If the Senate follows in the House’s footsteps, Hobbs said she will sign the repeal into law.

“Today, I am glad to see the House follow my calls to repeal the archaic 1864 total abortion ban that could jail doctors and endanger the lives of women in Arizona,” Hobbs said in a statement. “I’m thankful to House Democrats who worked relentlessly for years to repeal this draconian ban. Now, the Senate must do the right thing and send this repeal to my desk.”

The repeal came over the objections of most House Republicans, who openly lobbied Dunn on the House floor before he cast the deciding vote to override House rules.

And it could result in political repercussions, specifically for Republicans who bucked the majority of their party and voted to repeal the near-total ban.

“It’s an election year, and the pro-life community will do everything we can to protect the lives of children and the health and wellbeing of their mothers,” said Cathi Herrod, with the anti-abortion organization Center for Arizona Policy.

Like in the Senate, two of the decisive repeal votes in the House — Gress and Wilmeth — are running for reelection in competitive districts as polling indicates abortion access is broadly popular in Arizona across political lines. 

Dunn was the only Republican to vote for the repeal who hails from a safe GOP district.

Republican leadership immediately reacted to the vote with vague threats of retaliation.

“Believe me, we will remember this when you attempt to continually bring things up that are not going to be supported by our caucus as a whole,” Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham (R-Gilbert) said.

Those threats became more concrete moments later when Grantham announced that Toma removed Gress and Minority Leader Oscar De Los Santos (D-Laveen) from influential House committees.

Toma declined to say what motivated the decision, only saying the removal happened “because I decided it.” He then walked away from reporters and declined to answer further questions.

De Los Santos criticized the move.

“I think it’s very clear that the Republicans are throwing a fit, because I was willing to stand up alongside my caucus for the women of Arizona for reproductive healthcare, and I think it is retaliatory,” De Los Santos said. “But let me be clear, I am not intimidated and I will not be silenced.” 

House Minority Leader Lupe Contreras (D-Avondale) was more blunt.

“To pull one of my members off of the only two committees we have left is bullsh-t, and I’m not gonna take it; I’m not gonna stand for it,” Contreras said.

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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.