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Will Arizona’s Abortion Laws Go Back To The 1800s?

Whether people in Arizona can continue to get abortions will likely depend on what happens in the November midterms — including in some down ballot races.


Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux: Whether voters know it or not, the future of abortion access in Arizona could hinge on who’s elected in November. So, do Arizona voters want abortion to be illegal in their state, with almost no exceptions?

As of Oct. 21, abortion is legal in Arizona until 15 weeks of pregnancy. But things might not stay that way for long. In fact, abortion was almost entirely illegal in Arizona for a couple weeks in September and October because shortly after Roe v. Wade was overturned, a state judge let an 1864 ban go into effect — yes, that’s a law from decades before Arizona became a state. Then a few weeks later, a higher court said, Nope, actually, we’re going to freeze the law.

So abortion is still legal — for now. But the state’s highest court, the Supreme Court, still hasn’t weighed in. In the meantime, there are a bunch of important elections happening in Arizona that could shape abortion access going forward.

The race for state attorney general is arguably the most important for abortion in Arizona, and it hasn’t gotten much attention. The Democratic candidate, Kris Mayes, says she won’t prosecute abortion providers for violating the 1864 law — in fact, she thinks the ban is unconstitutional.

Mayes: “I will not prosecute any doctor, any pharmacist, any nurse, for abortion, period.”

Thomson-DeVeaux: Her opponent is Republican Abraham Hamadeh. He’s said that he agrees with the current attorney general, who has pushed to enforce the 1864 law.

Hamadeh: “I currently agree with General Brnovich’s position that the law’s the law.”

Thomson-DeVeaux: Nevertheless, the attorney general can’t control what lower-level prosecutors do, so it’s worth mentioning that abortion has become an issue even in some local races. One of the candidates running for district attorney in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, said that she won’t prosecute health-care professionals for providing abortions. The current Maricopa County attorney was cagier. She said she’d never prosecute women — but not that she wouldn’t prosecute doctors. Which is kind of an important distinction because the 1864 law targets doctors, not women.

Abortion access is also an issue in the governor’s race — although that’s a position with a little less power to influence whether abortion stays legal. Democrat Katie Hobbs has vowed to repeal the 1864 ban and give women access to abortions again — although without the cooperation of the Republican-controlled state Legislature, that’s unlikely to happen.

Hobbs: “During my time in the Legislature, I fought back against the increased restrictions on abortion access, and I’ll continue to do that as governor.”

Thomson-DeVeaux: And the Republican candidate for governor, Kari Lake? She wouldn’t say where she stood on the ban during a recent forum with voters. But she says she’s anti-abortion. Lake: “I support saving as many lives as possible.”

It’s understandable why Lake wouldn’t want to come out firmly in favor of a full ban. A recent poll of registered voters in Arizona found that 91 percent opposed a total ban on abortion, and 64 percent said it’s an issue that would affect their vote.

But her stance matters. The governor’s race is close, and abortion access is in a genuine state of limbo in Arizona. And when voters go to the ballot box this November, the candidates they elect could help determine whether it will still be possible to get an abortion in Arizona in the future.

Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux is a senior editor and senior reporter for FiveThirtyEight.

Sophia Lebowitz is a former video producer at FiveThirtyEight.


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