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Arizona Senate could vote Wednesday to repeal near-total abortion ban

The Arizona Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on a bill to repeal the state’s near-total abortion ban dating to 1864.

Three Republicans voted with Democrats in the state House of Representatives last week  to pass their version of a bill to repeal the law. State Sen. Priya Sundareshan told reporters Tuesday that she and fellow Democrats are expecting a very close vote again this time.

"Like in the House, the Arizona Senate Democrats will lead, and we’ll hope that two Republicans will join us in correcting this chaos," Sundareshan said.

The state Supreme Court on April 9 upheld the Civil War-era law that criminalizes performing an abortion unless it’s to save a mother’s life. The law is set to go back into effect in late June, according to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

If the Senate passes the bill to repeal that law, Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs has said she’ll sign it right away. But the repeal wouldn’t take effect until 90 days from the end of the legislative session, which could fall in August, September, or later.

So, abortions could still be outlawed in almost all circumstances for a few months in Arizona. Speaking to reporters last week, Hobbs called the situation frustrating.

“Unfortunately, it's not possible to get this repeal enacted right away," Hobbs said. "There's a lot of fear from providers and patients about what care they can provide and get. And we shouldn't be in this situation. The Legislature should have done this a long time ago."

Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes on Tuesday filed a motion to ask the state Supreme Court to stay its mandate in the abortion laws case for 90 days while her office decides whether to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. Such a delay could possibly close the gap between the beginning of enforcement of the ban and the date when a legislative repeal would take effect.

If the 1864 law is repealed, the state’s current abortion law would stay in place. That law allows abortion up to 15 weeks into a pregnancy.

Abortion rights advocates are gathering signatures to put a measure on ballots this year that would expand abortion access to the point of fetal viability, which is around 24 weeks. The proposed amendment to the state constitution would also allow some broad exceptions for abortions beyond the point of fetal viability when health risks are involved.

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Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.