Health Care

Arizona House votes to overturn 1864 abortion ban

The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Civil War-era law two weeks ago.
The Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Arizona’s House of Representatives voted Wednesday to overturn an 1864 law that outlawed virtually all abortions, just weeks after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Civil War-era law.

Three Republicans — state Reps. Matt Gress (R), Timothy Dunn (R) and Justin Wilmeth (R) — voted with all 29 Democrats to advance the measure past a critical hurdle. The measure passed with 32 of the House’s 60 votes.

In an emotional and heated debate, Republicans repeatedly compared abortion to slavery and castigated their fellow members who voted against what they called a key pillar of the GOP platform.

“I am disgusted today. Life is one of the tenants of our Republican platform. To see people go back on that value is egregious to me,” said Rep. Rachel Jones (R).

Others said the measure was circumventing the traditional legislative process.

“We should not have rushed this bill through the legislative process. The pre-Roe law has been on the books for decades,” House Speaker Ben Toma (R) said. “Today, we are rushing to judgement.”

Minutes after the vote, House Speaker Pro Tem Travis Grantham (R) announced that Gress, who backed the repeal in all three votes the state House has taken on the matter, would lose his seat on the House Appropriations Committee.

The vote represents a victory for abortion rights backers, but one that has several steps left to go before it reaches Gov. Katie Hobbs’s (D) desk. The state Senate, where Republicans hold a similarly narrow majority, must advance the measure. A vote on a similar version last week won approval when two Republicans joined Democrats in support.

Even if the bill passes, Arizona will retain a strict ban on abortions after 15 weeks of conception. That measure, approved under former Gov. Doug Ducey (R) in 2022, remains on the books.

Republicans questioned whether Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes (D) would enforce that 15-week ban, however. Hobbs signed an executive order last year placing all abortion-related prosecutions under Mayes’s authority, and Mayes has said she will not enforce any abortion ban.

Democrats celebrated the vote.

“I am grateful that sanity prevailed in the Arizona House today with the repeal of the draconian, near-total 1864 abortion ban,” Mayes said in a statement.  “That 160-year-old law that criminalizes doctors and nurses for caring for their patients and endangers the lives and health of women across our state has no place in the 21st century.”

The infighting among Republicans highlights differences within the party over the political stakes at play. Gress and other relative centrists have argued that the 1864 ban would represent a political albatross around the GOP’s neck in an election season in which Arizona’s legislature, a U.S. Senate seat, several U.S. House seats and the state’s electoral votes are up for grabs.

Republicans who voted against the repeal wondered aloud what the point of winning election was if the GOP did not uphold basic tenants of their platform.