Two Republicans Break Ranks to Repeal Arizona’s 1864-Era Abortion Ban

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images/Gage Skidmore Flickr
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images/Gage Skidmore Flickr

Arizona Republicans voted to overturn the state’s 1864-era abortion ban Wednesday in a shocking about-face that could have ripple effects into November.

Two Republicans, Sens. Shawnna Bolick and T.J. Shope, voted with Democrats in the Senate to repeal the ban, which bans all abortions except to save the woman’s life, in a contentious session in which one Republican called the state of his party “disgusting.”

The reversal comes after last month’s ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court that the near-total ban is enforceable, replacing the 15-week ban that has been in place since shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June 2022.

The court decision sent shockwaves through the state, forcing some previously anti-abortion Republicans—including Senate hopeful and MAGA favorite Kari Lake—to call on the state legislature to overturn it. Even Donald Trump said in an interview that the ban went “too far” and urged state lawmakers to “bring it back into reason.”

Republicans also feared that letting the ban stand would increase Democratic turnout in November for a planned ballot initiative enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution. Similar ballot measures in Kansas, Michigan, Vermont, and Ohio have all passed, and candidates even in deep-red states like Alabama have won local races by speaking out against the bans.

Still, Shope and Bolick’s departure from their party came as a surprise, especially after both have voted consistently to restrict abortion rights in the past.

Bolick, 49, is a former education consultant who was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2019 and selected by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to replace state Sen. Steve Kaiser when he resigned in July 2023. She is a staunch Trump supporter who introduced a bill in the wake of his 2020 presidential loss that would have allowed the Arizona legislature to overturn the state’s electoral votes. The bill did not pass.

Bolick has made her opposition to abortion clear, urging voters in February not to sign on to a proposed ballot initiative enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution because it is “an assault on God’s value in sovereignty regarding the sanctity of human life.” She previously voted in favor of a bill that would have replaced the word “product of human conception” with “unborn child” in all Arizona law.

Unsurprisingly, Bolick is backed by the Center for Arizona Policy, an extreme anti-abortion group that spent $5,000 on her campaign in 2020 and spent another $5,000 against her opponent. Jacobin recently reported that she also received more $750 worth of food and drinks from the group, including a single $300 meal in October 2023.

The senator also happens to be the wife of Clint Bolick, an Arizona Supreme Court justice who voted to uphold the 1864 ban last month. According to Jacobin, the justice has previously joined his wife at lobbying dinners sponsored by right-wing groups.

Bolick explained her decision to vote with Democrats in a wide-ranging, nearly 30-minute speech in which she detailed all three of her pregnancies and assailed Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, Planned Parenthood, and the state of Arizona for inducting Planned Parenthood founder Margaert Sanger into its Women’s Hall of Fame in 1991.

Toward the end of her speech, she explained she was voting to repeal the ban in order to prevent a November ballot initiative that would enshrine abortion rights up to 24 weeks in the state constitution from passing.

“Until we have a better choice in this matter, I side with saving more lives,” Bolick said. “I want to protect our state constitution from unlimited abortions up until the moment of birth.”

The long-winded explanation did not save her from the condemnation of her fellow Republicans, including Sen. Anthony Kern, who compared Republicans voting with Democrats to Nazis, and Sen. Jake Hoffman, who said it was “disgusting that this is the state of the Republican party today.”

Shope made no such pronouncements on the Senate floor Wednesday, though he came out strongly against the 1864 law when the state Supreme Court greenlit it last month, saying in a tweet that “15 weeks is what my district believes to be an appropriate timeline” while calling the decision “disappointing to say the least.”

First elected to the Arizona House in 2012, Shope won his Senate bid in 2020 and currently serves as president pro tem. He has co-sponsored four anti-abortion bills in the last 10 years, including one that would make it a felony to abort a fetus specifically for a genetic abnormality, and another to protect infants “born alive” from being aborted—a common and inaccurate GOP talking point.

Last month, two Arizona Senate Democrats filed an ethics complaint against Shope and Senate President Warren Petersen last month, after they said the pair illegally blocked them from bringing forward a repeal of the ban. Shope called these allegations “bogus,” and a “desperate publicity stunt to score cheap campaign points with their radical Left base.”

Shope has a history of working across the aisle, voting with Democrats at the beginning of his career to expand Medicaid coverage and, in 2020, opposing a Republican-backed bill that would have made it illegal for businesses to refuse to serve unvaccinated customers.

“I believe in private property rights,” he said at the time. “I believe in the rights of the … barber who may be immunocompromised, who cannot get a vaccine, who would just want to put a sign up in the front of their shop.”

Both Shope and Bolick are running for re-election in competitive districts in November. Democratic Sen. Priya Sundareshan said she believes the two decided to support the repeal because they realized how unpopular the near-total ban is with voters.

“It was mainly a recognition on their part that, politically, it is disadvantageous to be seen as a party that supported this draconian and complete ban,” she told The Daily Beast. “The Republicans who are in vulnerable seats saw they needed to save their own skin by joining us in the repeal.”

Shope and Bolick are not the only Arizona Republicans to defect from their party: Three Republican representatives joined Democrats in a House vote to overturn the law last week, following two previous failed attempts.

Following the Senate vote, the bill now moves to Hobbs, who is expected to sign it. Because law repeals in Arizona do not take effect for 90 days after a legislative session concludes, and the 1864 ban is scheduled to take effect June 27, there will likely be a period this summer in which the near-total ban is still in effect. Planned Parenthood filed a motion with the Supreme Court shortly after the vote, asking it to stay the issuance of a final order until after the repeal takes effect in order to avert such gaps.

Abortion will still be illegal in the state after 15 weeks after the repeal takes effect, leaving out some of the most medically complex cases and disadvantaging poor women and those who live farther from clinics, who may have a harder time scheduling an appointment before the cut-off.

Chris Love, a spokesperson for the group organizing the ballot initiative, issued a statement thanking pro-abortion lawmakers for working to repeal the ban, but added: “Unfortunately, Arizonans will still be living under a law that denies us the right to make decisions about our own health.”

“Arizonans cannot afford to celebrate or lose momentum,” she added. “The threat to our reproductive freedom is as immediate today as it ever was. Nothing will stop these relentless attacks on Arizonans’ freedoms except the Arizona Abortion Access Act.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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