Republicans retreat from near-total abortion ban in Arizona

Donald Trump and his party led an all-hands retreat from the furthest reaches of the pro-life standpoint this week after an Arizona Supreme Court decision snapped back into place the state’s century-old abortion ban which bars the practice in almost all cases.

The former president made his latest remarks on the topic after landing on Wednesday in Atlanta for a fundraiser; he told reporters upon his arrival that officials in Arizona could work together to bring the state’s abortion lawns back within the realm of “reason”. It was as close to a flat-out admission of “going too far” as one could expect from Mr Trump.

“It’ll be straightened out and as you know, it’s all about states’ rights,” he said. “It’ll be straightened out, and I’m sure that the governor and everybody else are going to bring it back into reason and that’ll be taken care of, I think, very quickly.”

At the same press conference, he clarified the stance he had unveiled in a video message to supporters on Monday, and claimed that he would not sign a national abortion ban into law.

He was far from the only one running away from the news. Kari Lake, the GOP’s chosen Senate candidate in Arizona, is also backing away from a ban to which she once gave a full-throated endorsement in June 2022. Having previously told voters she was “thrilled” about the prospect of her state banning abortion in all cases except when a patient’s life is in danger, Ms Lake this week released a lengthy statement calling the 1901 ban out of step with Arizonans.

“I oppose today’s ruling, and I am calling on [Governor] Katie Hobbs and the state Legislature to come up with an immediate commonsense solution that Arizonans can support,” said Ms Lake this week.

But as the two and others were attacked by pro-life groups this week for their about-faces, it was clear that the Republican Party is by no means close to even a basic understanding of what their own policy on reproductive freedom should be in a post-Roe world. There seems to be broad agreement around the issue of protecting in vitro fertilisation (IFV) — the party rallied in its defence after an Alabama court decision endangered the practice — but not much else.

Mr Trump and Ms Lake both now find themselves at odds with the greater evangelical Christian right within the GOP, much of which has wholeheartedly embraced plans for bans at the national level which undermine their colleagues’ calls to “let the states decide”. Another scuffle on that front occurred this week, as Senator Lindsey Graham and his sometimes-ally in the former president scrapped back and forth over the idea. In one post, Mr Trump raised the idea that the anti-abortion camp was handing ammunition to Democrats.

“The Democrats are thrilled with Lindsey, because they want this issue to simmer for as long a period of time as possible,” he wrote.

He may be right; the president and his allies have been in full attack mode since the latest court decisions in Florida and Arizona allowed those states’ abortion restrictions, which are some of the tightest in the country, to take effect. The national Biden-Harris campaign released a devastating ad featuring a woman from Texas who suffered a major infection after she was denied life-saving abortion care, endangering her ability to have children in the future — some on Twitter likened its impact to the infamous “Daisy” ad produced by Lyndon Johnson’s campaign in 1964.

And in Florida, the Biden campaign on Tuesday joined a press call with local Democratic officials to preview how the fight for reproductive rights would transform the presidential race in that state this far. The state’s Supreme Court has allowed a 15-week ban to take effect, and a six-week ban is set to override it in the weeks ahead.

Much of the Biden campaign’s messaging will be centred around “talk[ing] about what is happening at the national scale”, the campaign’s Florida director Jasmine Burney-Clark said on Tuesday.

Nikki Fried, the state party chair, echoed that promise and vowed that the party would share the experiences of women living under the ban and “educate the public on what it means when you ban abortion at six weeks”.

Republicans set to run in these battleground regions continue to face an uncertain political future, with little agreement or leadership from their party at the national level to look to for guidance.

Rep Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican who spoke to The Independent on Wednesday, predicted that the backlash against his party would end as voters supposedly “become more pro-life over time”.

“The reality of post-Roe vs. Wade is nobody really knows what their position on abortion is. Like, I know my position. But I would say of the American people, that's still a moving target.”

“But you can't jam that and force it. People have to get there,” he cautioned. He wholly rejected the idea that Democrats in his state would have success running against the six-week ban.

“They suck, they’re losers,” he said. Turning to the state party chair, he said: “She’s gonna lose, like she lost before. And I know Nikki, but that’s just the reality.”

A spokesperson for the Florida state Democratic party responded to that remark in a statement provided to The Independent: “Rep Donalds can believe what he wants, but the truth is [Governor Ron] DeSantis and Republicans are underwater in Florida.”

“Republicans know they are stuck with a losing message in 2024. We will see him at the finish line in November.”