Arizona house votes to repeal state’s near-total ban on abortion

<span>State congresswomen Stephanie Stahl Hamilton and Anna Hernandez celebrate after the house vote.</span><span>Photograph: Rebecca Noble/Reuters</span>
State congresswomen Stephanie Stahl Hamilton and Anna Hernandez celebrate after the house vote.Photograph: Rebecca Noble/Reuters

Lawmakers in the Arizona house have voted to repeal a controversial 1864 law banning nearly all abortions, amid mounting pressure on the state’s Republicans.

Three Republicans joined with all 29 Democrats on Wednesday to support the repeal of the law, which predates Arizona’s statehood and provides no exceptions for rape or incest.

The move follows weeks of effort by Democrats in the state legislature to undo the law, while the issue increasingly put Republicans on the defensive in a key battleground state.

The measure will now head to the state senate, where it is expected to pass, and then to the governor’s desk.

Related: ‘Have you signed yet?’: Arizona activists battle to overturn near-total abortion ban

The Arizona supreme court earlier this month concluded the state could enforce a long-dormant law that permits abortions only to save the pregnant patient’s life. The ruling suggested doctors could be prosecuted under the law, first approved in 1864, and that anyone who assists in an abortion could face two to five years in prison.

The ruling put enormous pressure on Republicans in the state, who are under fire from some conservatives in their base who firmly support the abortion ban, and from swing voters who strongly oppose the measure and will decide crucial races including the presidency, the US Senate and the GOP’s control of the legislature.

Some prominent Republicans, including the GOP candidate for Senate, Kari Lake, have come out against the ban. But Republicans in the statehouse repeatedly blocked efforts by Democratic lawmakers to repeal the law.

A week ago, one Republican in the Arizona house joined 29 Democrats to bring the repeal measure to a vote, but the effort failed twice on 30-30 votes.

The office of the Arizona attorney general, Kris Mayes, on Tuesday had asked the state supreme court to reconsider its decision, the Arizona Republic reported.

On Wednesday, dozens of people gathered outside the state capitol before the House and Senate were scheduled to meet, many of them carrying signs or wearing shirts showing their opposition to abortion rights.

Anti-abortion protesters sang Amazing Grace and chanted “shame on you”, Jeremy Duda of Axios reported.

Some Republicans were critical of their colleagues’ move to side with Democrats in repealing the ban.

“I am disgusted today,” said Rachel Jones, a Republican representative who voted against repeal. “Life is one of the tenets of our Republican platform. To see people go back on that value is egregious to me.”

The civil-war era law had been blocked since the US supreme court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion nationwide.

After Roe v Wade was overturned in June 2022, the then Arizona attorney general, Mark Brnovich, a Republican, persuaded a state judge that the 1864 ban could be enforced. The law had not actually been enforced while the case made its way through the courts.

If the proposed repeal is signed into law by the Democratic governor Katie Hobbs, a 2022 statute banning the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy would become the prevailing abortion law.

Many abortion providers in the state had vowed to continue providing the procedure until the ban went into effect. In neighboring California, providers were gearing up to treat Arizona patients seeking abortion care.

The battle over abortion access in Arizona will ultimately be decided in November. Abortion-rights advocates are pushing to ask Arizona voters to create a constitutional right to abortion. They have collected about 500,000 signatures, more than the almost 384,000 needed to put it on the ballot.

The proposed constitutional amendment would guarantee abortion rights until a fetus could survive outside the womb, typically around 24 weeks. It also would allow later abortions to save the parent’s life, or to protect her physical or mental health.

Republican lawmakers, in turn, are considering putting one or more competing abortion proposals on the November ballot.

A leaked planning document outlined the approaches being considered by house Republicans, such as codifying existing abortion regulations, proposing a 14-week ban that would be “disguised as a 15-week law” because it would allow abortions until the beginning of the 15th week, and a measure that would prohibit abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they are pregnant.

House Republicans have not yet publicly released any such proposed ballot measures.

Reproductive rights advocates say the issue has mobilized voters and report that people are seeking out signature-gatherers and asking about locations where their friends and family can sign to put abortion access on the ballot.

“I’ve had women come up with three kids, and they’re signing. And I tell them, moms are the most important signature here, because they understand what this issue is, and what pregnancy does to the body, what pregnancy does to your life,” Susan Anthony, who has been gathering signatures in Arizona, told the Guardian.

The Associated Press contributed reporting