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Lake challenges Gallego to U.S. Senate debate on abortion rights

Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Kari Lake issued a challenge to her Democratic rival, Congressman Ruben Gallego: a debate over abortion. 

A spokeswoman for Gallego quickly rejected the request, and said Lake has already made her opposition to abortion rights clear to voters.

Lake did not take questions at a Friday afternoon press conference, where she criticized the media for repeatedly asking her about abortion amid a fierce debate in Arizona over the future of reproductive rights.

In April, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a near-total abortion ban — an 1864 state law that made no exceptions for rape or incest. 

For the next four weeks, the future of that law dominated debate, both on the campaign trail and at the state Capitol, where eventually a handful of Republican lawmakers voted with legislative Democrats to repeal it. Gov. Katie Hobbs signed that repeal on Thursday, though it won’t take effect for several months.

Lake has taken conflicting positions on that 1864 law. She repeatedly praised the near-total ban on abortions as a gubernatorial candidate two years ago.

After the state Supreme Court upheld it, Lake issued a statement that the Civil War-era ban was “out of step with Arizonans.”

Later, she said it was unfortunate top state officials refused to enforce it.

On Friday, Lake said she’s made her position on abortion abundantly clear: “My goal is simple. I want to save as many babies as possible.”

Lake also repeated her support for “baby bonuses,” tax rebates for mothers for every child they have. After having their fourth child, Lake said mothers should no longer have to pay taxes — part of a broader effort, she said, to “make it easier for people to start families.”

“When I get to the U.S. Senate, that is my plan,” Lake said. “I will be the most pro-family U.S. senator in the country.”

Any further questions on abortion, she said, were best left to a debate with Gallego.

“This is a great opportunity that I have for [the media]. I am officially challenging my opponent Ruben Gallego to a one-on-one debate on the issue of abortion,” Lake told reporters. “We owe it to the people of this state not just to state our policy but to defend our policies and I'm willing to do that.”

In a statement, Gallego spokeswoman Hannah Goss said “there’s nothing to debate.”

“Kari Lake’s record is clear: she supports the 1864 ban with no exceptions for rape or incest and called on sheriffs to enforce it,” Goss said.

As for Gallego, the Democrat has promised to protect abortion rights in federal law, and supports waiving the U.S. Senate’s filibuster if necessary. 

Lake says the U.S. Supreme Court was right to let state’s determine their own abortion law — she also says she’s opposed to  a federal abortion ban.

Lake has so far declined to address calls to debate her Republican opponent in the U.S. Senate primary, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, who in March challenged Lake to multiple debates. Lake is widely considered the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, having already been endorsed by former President Donald Trump when she announced her candidacy in October.

Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.