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Anti-abortion group head asks lawmakers not to repeal Arizona's territorial-era law

Posted 4/16/24

PHOENIX — The head of a key anti-abortion group is warning lawmakers not to repeal the territorial-era law that outlaws all abortions except to save the life of the mother.

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Anti-abortion group head asks lawmakers not to repeal Arizona's territorial-era law


PHOENIX — The head of a key anti-abortion group is warning lawmakers not to repeal the territorial-era law that outlaws all abortions except to save the life of the mother.

The message from Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, is aimed at legislators who got elected in 2022 after stating they were against abortions except to save the life of the mother.

That was simply an academic question at the time. While the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade and its constitutional right of women to terminate a pregnancy, Arizona was governed by a state law, passed earlier in the year, allowing the procedure until the 15th week of pregnancy.

But all that changed last week when the Arizona Supreme Court concluded the old law superseded the newer one. That started a clock running that could reinstate the original law as early as this coming Monday.

More to the point, her message comes as lawmakers convene Wednesday to consider a proposal to repeal the old law, leaving the newer one — and its 15-week limit — in place.

Herrod, whose organization through its political arm has endorsed candidates, made it clear she believes anyone who votes for repeal will face political consequences in the 2024 election.

“Arizonans deserve lawmakers they can trust,” she said. “They want elected officials who keep their word, especially when it concerns human life.”

Democrats appear solidly behind legislation crafted by Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton. But even if all vote for the plan by the Tucson Democrat — and newly appointed Rep. Junelle Cavero of Phoenix is sworn in on time to cast her vote — that still leaves just 29 in the 60-member House.

Two lawmakers who have previously said they believe the state Supreme Court got it wrong when they overturned the law — Republicans Matt Gress and David Cook — were on the list of those endorsed last election by CAP’s political action arm.

“Candidates who publicly supported the law that was in effect when Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided should stand by their word as lawmakers and vote ‘no’ on any proposed repeal,” Herrod said in her message.

Without mentioning either lawmaker by name, Herrod tacitly acknowledged both Gress and Cook are facing tough political races.
Gress is in a moderate political district in north central Phoenix. In fact, voters in his district elected not just him but also Democrat Laura Terech.

And voters in that same district turned out Republican Sen. Nancy Barto, an ardent foe of abortion, in favor of Democrat Christine Marsh.
Gress, who actually made a motion last week to repeal the old law, did not immediately return repeated messages seeking comment.

Cook is in a different situation.

Having reached his full eight years allowed in the House in the safely Republican district, he now is running in the GOP primary for Senate against two-term incumbent Wendy Rogers.

Cook acknowledged his name might be on the list of those CAP endorsed, but he said he never sought it or does he believe it actually mattered in his 2022 race.

But as far as voting for repeal on Wednesday, that remains up in the air.
He acknowledged the Arizona Supreme Court said its ruling could take effect on April 22. And there also is a separate agreement by former state Attorney General Mark Brnovich not to enforce the law for 45 days after the court ruling becomes final, meaning at least two months.
Cook said, though, there’s no rush.

He cited the executive order issued last year by Gov. Katie Hobbs stripping all 15 county attorneys of their ability to prosecute abortion cases, giving that authority to current Attorney General Kris Mayes. And she has said she doesn’t intend to bring any charges against anyone.
What that means, Cook said, is there is time to have a deeper discussion of what law should be on the books rather than simply repeal the 1864 law.

That, he said, includes possible amendments to the 15-week law as well as seeing whether GOP leaders can come up with something in between the old law and its virtual ban and the initiative that, if approved in November, would enshrine the right to abortion in the Arizona Constitution.

Such alternatives already are being discussed, like a plan to put multiple alternatives on the November ballot, including a ban on abortion after 14 weeks and another “fetal heartbeat” proposal to outlaw the procedure after the fifth week of pregnancy, though that has exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking. Democrats have dismissed that as an attempt to confuse voters.

Herrod, while reminding lawmakers of their pledge to support the abortion ban, said she was not taking a position on those alternatives. She has said she believes that, even if the choice in November is between the 1864 law and the initiative, voters can be convinced what is on the ballot is overly broad.

It specifically allows abortions through fetal viability, generally considered between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. But it also permits the procedure beyond that in cases when a doctor determines it “is necessary to protect the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant individual,” a provision foes contend would allow abortion right up to the point of birth.

But Sen. Anna Hernandez, D-Phoenix, said there is a reason the measure is crafted this way.

“Ultimately, this should be decided between the medical provider and the patient,” she said. “How can you put an arbitrary number on that when complications can happen at any point in the pregnancy.”
Also on that list of those endorsed by CAP is Sen. T.J. Shope. The Coolidge Republican is on record as saying he believes the 15-week law is more appropriate than the outright ban.

“I’m still on for repeal,” Shope said Tuesday, but said he’s willing to consider other alternatives.

“But those options really haven’t been discussed by us yet, so I feel pretty strongly about ‘repeal first,’” he said, and then decide whether there should be something else on the November ballot.

And the endorsement?

“I’ve been endorsed by groups some years and not other years,” he said. “It’s just a fact of life down there (at the Capitol) and doesn’t play into my decision making all too much.”