Health Care

Arizona Supreme Court upholds 1800s abortion ban

The ruling raises the stakes for an abortion rights ballot measure in November.
FILE – Thousands of protesters march around the Arizona Capitol after the Supreme Court decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision Friday, June 24, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a 160-year-old abortion ban, a blow to reproductive rights advocates that is bound to reverberate in November’s elections.

In a 4-2 decision, the court ruled that the legislature has demonstrated an “unwavering intent” since the law was first passed in 1864 to forbid abortions absent a federal constitutional right, and “has never affirmatively created a right to, or independently authorized, elective abortion.”

The law, written before Arizona became a state and dormant for decades, mandates prison sentences of two to five years for anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion, unless it is necessary to save her life.

But the law’s enforcement was almost immediately thrown into question. The court determined that the law could be “enforced prospectively only.” It put it on hold for 14 days while a lower court considers additional arguments.

Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) issued an executive order last year banning local prosecutors from bringing abortion-related charges and giving all power over abortion-related prosecutions to Attorney General Kris Mayes (D). Mayes vowed on Tuesday not to recognize the ruling.

“Today’s decision to reimpose a law from a time when Arizona wasn’t a state, the Civil War was raging, and women couldn’t even vote will go down in history as a stain on our state,“ she said in a statement. “Let me be completely clear, as long as I am Attorney General, no woman or doctor will be prosecuted under this draconian law in this state.”

Abortion is currently legal up to 15 weeks gestation under a law signed in 2022 by then-Gov. Doug Ducey (R).

The ruling raises the stakes for abortion rights advocates collecting signatures for a November ballot measure that would allow voters to decide on a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights.

Arizona for Abortion Access, a coalition of reproductive rights organizations including the ACLU of Arizona and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, announced last week that they had collected 500,000 signatures ahead of their July deadline, more than the 383,923 valid signatures they need.

In a statement, SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser called the court decision “a major advancement in the fight for life in Arizona” but said abortion rights opponents “must defeat this extreme measure” on the ballot.

Arizona is one of nine states on the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s 2024 target map. In a March memo, the party’s main state legislative campaign arm said it would focus on Republican attempts to ban abortion and curb other reproductive rights, including Arizona Republicans’ attempts to pass “fetal personhood” laws.

Republicans control narrow majorities in the House and Senate, where they have blocked many of Hobbs’s priorities.