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Arizona Supreme Court Upholds Near-Total Abortion Ban


In a landmark decision, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled on April 9, 2024, that the state’s near-total abortion ban, dating back to the 1864 Howell Code, can be enforced starting April 23, 2024. This ruling marks a significant shift in the state’s legal stance on abortion, making it illegal except when “necessary to save” the life of the pregnant individual. Those found assisting in an illegal abortion could face 2-5 years in prison.

The controversial law, which has sparked intense debate across the state, was upheld in Planned Parenthood Arizona v. Mayes by the Republican-controlled court. The decision follows the June 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade, and the subsequent lifting of an injunction that had previously prevented the 1864 law’s enforcement. 

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat, has voiced strong opposition to the ruling, stating that she will not prosecute women or doctors under this law while in office. “As long as I am in office, then women or doctors will not be prosecuted under this law,” Mayes declared, highlighting the ongoing legal and ideological battles over abortion rights in Arizona.

After the Republican House legislative majority blocked the repeal of the 1864 total abortion ban, Governor Katie Hobbs released the following statement:

“Today’s legislative action was unconscionable. The extremist Republican majority had the chance to do the right thing for their constituents, and they failed. As they have time and again, radical legislators protected a Civil War-era total abortion ban that jails doctors, strips women of their bodily autonomy, and puts our lives at risk.

“While extremists in the legislature refuse to protect our rights, I will do everything in my power to protect reproductive freedoms for Arizona women. My Executive Order protecting doctors and women from overzealous county prosecutors is still in effect, and I remain committed to an immediate repeal of this draconian ban.

“My heart is with every single woman who is now questioning if it is safe for them to start a family. I am proud to be a voice for every Arizonan who believes in freedom and bodily autonomy. This fight is far from over.”

The history of abortion legislation in Arizona is long and complex. The state first banned abortion in 1864, and despite the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision making the law unenforceable for decades, it remained on the books. Over the years, Arizona has seen various laws and regulations affecting abortion access, including the implementation of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws and restrictions on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which were later blocked by an injunction.

Public opinion in Arizona has shown strong support for keeping abortion legal in all or some cases, with an OH Predictive Insights poll in 2022 revealing that 87% of registered voters favored legal access to abortion. This ruling not only reactivates the state’s original abortion ban but also underscores the deeply polarized views on abortion within Arizona. As the state and its officials grapple with the implications of this decision, the debate over abortion rights continues to evolve, reflecting broader national conversations and conflicts over reproductive health and freedom.

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