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A repeal of the near-total abortion ban passed in the Arizona House. The speaker isn't happy

Republican Ben Toma, the Arizona speaker of the House, is staunchly opposed to the repeal of the state's near-total abortion ban. And he has been one of the major forces trying to block a repeal from happening since the state Supreme Court reinstated it two weeks ago.

The few Republicans who joined Democrats to pass a repeal in the House on Wednesday went against Toma in doing it. And he isn’t happy about it. Toma joined The Show to talk more about his reaction, his retaliation and his anti-abortion position in today’s political landscape.

Full interview

BEN TOMA: Well, you know, this was the, the third session really post the Supreme Court decision and, you know, it had been attempted the two Wednesdays before. So, I mean, it wasn't really a surprise. We all knew it was coming. I gotta be honest with you. I didn't know if the votes were, were gonna be there this time around and doing something on a procedural motion the way this was done does in fact invite a lot of scrutiny. And, you know, lots of the members of the caucus felt very strongly about this issue, for, for a number of reasons, some of which are, are very personal, some of them are political and I can't speak to each one individual's motivation.  But I have to say, you know, I'm 100% pro-life and so so for this to happen, and especially the way it happened, it it, it wasn't a pleasant experience. 

LAUREN GILGER: So I want to talk about why you support this near total abortion ban, even as the most powerful Republican in the country, Donald Trump has said it goes too far. He's called on state leaders like you to change it. The political wins on this issue are shifting right now, even within the GOP. Tell me why you want to keep a ban like this in place.

TOMA: Well, look, I mean, just because, and you're 100% right? Let me just start by saying that which a lot of Republicans do feel differently about this. I, I don't know how many have changed, how many have always felt this way again. I, I want to be careful that I don't impugn anyone's motives, but that is 100% correct. I, I will say though that just because the majority wants something, and I'm not talking about Republicans here, I'm talking about the majority period the plurality of voters want something doesn't mean that that's right. And some of us have, you know, deeply, deeply held ethical and moral beliefs. Some of them have religious tendencies to it but many of them are just moral and ethical that believe that abortion is wrong. And so if you're going to be consistent with your beliefs, then I don't think you have a choice but to, but to vote, vote no. And to, in this particular case and to stick to your beliefs. So that's where I am. I, I respect that others disagree. And when you have a body like the, like the Legislature, at the end of the day, what matters is who can get to 31 and, and 16 to get something done. And, and that's what we saw happen yesterday.

GILGER: Yeah. What about the fact that this law includes no exceptions for rape or incest. It punishes doctors or providers who might provide abortion care. Where do you think the line should be drawn?

TOMA: Well, again, I think that what, what this comes down to is the very fundamental difference of, do you believe that, you know, in, in the battle if you will, between the rights of the unborn and the rights of the, of, of the, of the mother or the potential mother who wins in this? And, and that's where the issue fundamentally is. If you believe that, that, that the unborn is, in fact a human being or at the very least a potential human being, then you have to weigh that human beings rights and the state's duty to protect that individual with those of the, of the mother of her rights to her body if you will. And that's where the conflict occurs. So that's why there's nothing quite like this subject. There's nothing quite like abortion that is so clearly a conflict between the human rights if you will of, of two different individuals. 

GILGER: Republicans are also reportedly considering at least three other ballot referrals that would compete with the citizen Initiative that's gathered more than I think 500,000 signatures already that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. They would offer kind of varying levels of restrictions on abortions, a 15-week ban, et cetera. Would you back any of those plans are those kind of in the consideration right now?

TOMA: Certainly, I mean, we're looking at a consideration because ultimately, at the end of the day, what all Republicans can agree to and I would say most Arizonans even can agree to is that the, the, the so called Planned Parenthood initiative is, is by far too extreme. They call it a 24 week ban, but basically what it, what it would do because of all the exceptions is allow, you know, nine months, abortion and those are, those are things that most voters don't want. And so now the reality is, most likely after, after what, what will probably happen in the Senate next week, the choice for most voters will be keep the 15-week current law or go to something very extreme. And, and like I said, I, I can virtually speak and I normally don't do that, but I can speak for virtually every Republican in the State House and Senate that nobody thinks that that's a good idea. So we're looking at all options. I don't know what they're going to be yet. I know I can tell you that we haven't landed on anything concrete at this point, but we are talking at all options and, and looking at what would make sense to give voters a different perspective if, if it's needed and it may be that we do nothing at the end of the day. 

GILGER: And I should say the organizers of that initiative would disagree with that, that analysis of it. But let me ask you about the 15-week line there because I mean, most abortions happen before 15 weeks. Are you comfortable with going forward with that and supporting that kind of ban?

TOMA: Well, at this point that it would be the law of the land right after the repeal of the what's called territorial but it's actually the 1977 law. I mean, given the choice, if it was simply a binary choice between the current state of things, the 15-week and and the extreme measure, I would say it's pretty clear which side of the issue we're going to land on it. And then that would be to support the current status. Having said that, of course, I don't want to contradict myself, I am pro life as I said, and I, and I will stick to my beliefs.

GILGER: Let me ask you about, some reported retaliation against Republican Representative Matt Gress. Yesterday, he joined Democrats to vote to move forward in repealing this ban. So did Democrat Oscar De Los Santos. After the vote, they were removed from committee assignments. Why did that happen? What was the calculation there?

TOMA: Well, first of all, there were two different issues. Well, we'll start with De Los Santos first. What he did and what he led two weeks ago on the floor was unacceptable. I made those comments very public in terms of, speaking to Representative Matt Gress, he knows, and he and I have spoken about this. I don't bear him any ill will for voting his conscience. The issue was not about the fact that he voted his conscience on a particular bill or on this particular issue. It was about the fact that, that procedurally he decided to do things in such a way that really, if you will, defied the caucus and, and there has to be caucus unity and caucus discipline and, and quite frankly, the fact that it failed two weeks in a row and, and finally, only was able to pass the third week, in, I think to, to, to quote what Representative Grantham said from, who happened to be in the, in the chair when all this was happening. It just sort of rubs a raw wound. And, and that's not the way you do this at the end of the day. And by the way, just so we're clear he, he was not removed from all of his committees. Yeah, he was, he was removed from one committee.

GILGER: OK. So before I let you go, I want to ask you speaker about the announcement from Attorney General Kris Mayes yesterday, a grand jury has indicted 11 Arizona Republicans and several more aides to former president Donald Trump who were involved in the so called fake a scheme following the 2020 election. This includes two of your fellow lawmakers. What's your reaction today?

TOMA: To be perfectly honest? You know, I'm not familiar with the, with the case and, and obviously I know about it and I've heard about it, but I, I don't know the details. I'm not an attorney. I will tell you though that, that everyone should be highly suspect of everything that comes out of this, this Attorney General's Office. I mean, she's, she's made it highly political. She's, she's refused to do her job on a number of occasions and and even fought us and myself specifically on, on doing her job for her. And look, I don't, I don't trust this at this point. It could be anything but a political stunt. So we'll see where goes. I'll follow it. Obviously, one of them is, is my opponent in the Congressional District 8 race. But, but at this point, like I said, I, I'm going to follow it and, and hopefully it's not just a political stunt and, and there's actual merit to it, but we'll see.

GILGER: All right, we'll leave it there for now. Speaker of the House of Representatives Ben Toma joining us. Thank you very much for joining us. I appreciate it.

TOMA: Hey, thank you. Appreciate it.

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.