Arizona Republicans rush to distance themselves from abortion ban they fought for

gress coscomani

US Congressman Juan Ciscomani and State Representative Matt Gress. Photo by Gage Skidmore

By Camaron Stevenson

April 9, 2024

Arizona lawmakers with an extensive history of opposition to abortion-related healthcare spent Tuesday deriding the state’s newly reinstated, total abortion ban.

“I cannot and will not condemn women, especially the victim, to be forced to carry their pregnancy to term,” said Phoenix state Rep. Matt Gress, who last year introduced multiple bills that would do just that.

“As my record shows, I’m a strong supporter of empowering women to make their one healthcare choices and I oppose a national abortion ban,” said US Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Tucson, who voted to repeal a national law that allows abortion medication to be delivered by mail, restricting women’s healthcare options.

Total ban always the end goal

Many anti-abortion lawmakers who have come out against the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision to bring back the state’s total ban have voiced their preference for a 15-week ban that was passed in 2022. While this law also provides no exceptions for rape or incest, it does give women two weeks to determine if they’re pregnant and discuss with family and medical providers what to do next, which representatives like Gress and Ciscomani believe is adequate.

But those who passed the 15-week ban made clear the eventual goal was to ban abortion services entirely. Three months after Republicans passed the 15-week ban, Queen Creek Sen. Jake Hoffman prepared to introduce a new bill to ban abortion entirely.

When conflict arose surrounding the bill—Republican House Majority Leader Ben Toma wouldn’t bring the bill to a vote over worries its introduction could signal that the 1864 ban was no longer legally sound—the two nearly got into a physical altercation to prove who was the most anti-abortion.

“I’m more pro-life than you will ever be!” Toma shouted on the House floor. “I’ve done more to help life than you ever will.”

Toma, who later explained that all Republican legislators support a total ban but need to be more strategic about implementing one, has now toned down his support considerably, while still not taking a total ban off the table.

“We will closely be reviewing the court’s ruling, talking to our members [of the legislature], and listening to our constituents to determine the best course of action for the legislature,” Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen said in a joint statement.

Current opposition contradicts past support

While abortion bans are wildly unpopular among their constituents, Toma and Petersen are likely to find support for them when talking with Republican legislators behind closed doors.

“In 2022, I supported the 15-week legislation… It is time for my legislative colleagues to find common ground of common sense: the first step is to repeal the territorial law,” said Phoenix Sen. Shawnna Bolick, who in February supported new legislation that would reinforce the territorial law.

“I will immediately work with my legislative colleagues to repeal the territorial law so that the policy we placed in Statute, just two years ago… can stand,” said Rep. TJ Shope, who has voted for nearly a dozen laws that would restrict abortion services.

Nor is it certain that Toma and Petersen will stand by their current statements. The pair filed a motion of support for the 1964 ban with the Arizona Supreme Court and gave their opinion as legislators that it should be the law of the land.

“We know that every single Republican in the Arizona House and Senate supported this territorial total ban on abortion—they signed an amicus brief affirming that very fact,” said Sen. Eva Burch. “The fight for reproductive rights is not over in Arizona and we won’t stop until every person has the ability to make healthcare decision that are right for them without any government interference.”

Other anti-abortion lawmakers, like US Rep. David Schweikert, opposed the court’s ruling but did not rescind his support for total bans on abortion. Instead, he said in a statement that the legislature should be the one to pass a new ban, not have an old one reinstated by the courts.

“This issue should be decided by Arizonans, not legislated from the bench,” said Schweikert. “I encourage the state legislature to address this issue immediately.”

Ban repeal proposed, but ignored

Republicans who have come out in support of the 15-week ban over the total ban were given an opportunity to repeal the 1864 law earlier this year. Democratic Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton in January introduced a one-sentence bill that would have given lawmakers like Gress, Shope and Bolick precisely what they now claim to want.

“Section 13-3603, Arizona Revised Statutes,” the bill reads, referring to the total ban, “Is repealed.”

The proposal had the support of every Democrat in the legislature and Gov. Katie Hobbs, meaning it would only have needed support from one Republican representative—such as Gress—and one Republican senator—such as Bolick—to pass.

“This law has no place in the 21st century and will cause chaos and fear in the lives of tens of thousands of Arizonans across every demographic,” said Stahl Hamilton. “We knew that Republicans will not stop until reproductive rights are gone. I’m proud to stand with a Governor and my legislative colleagues who have your back and are ready to work to right this wrong.”

Author

  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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