Arizona House descends into shouting match as Republicans block attempts to repeal Civil War-era abortion ban

The Arizona House descended into a shouting match after Republicans blocked attempts to repeal the state’s newly revived 1864 law that criminalizes abortion throughout pregnancy unless a woman’s life is at risk.

House Democrats erupted into shouts of “Shame! Shame!” on Wednesday as GOP leaders, who command the majority, twice cut off attempts to discuss a repeal of the Civil War-era abortion ban.

It came after the Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the Civil War-era law that criminalises abortion, and those who help women obtain one, over a 2022 law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks.

The 1864 law holds no exceptions for rape or incest.

The decision was met with outcry from citizens, Democratic lawmakers, abortion advocates and more across the United States who warned that it would harm access to necessary reproductive healthcare and providers.

Arizona State Rep. Matt Gress speaks to reporters on the House floor at the Capitol (AP)
Arizona State Rep. Matt Gress speaks to reporters on the House floor at the Capitol (AP)

Arizona House Democrats and at least one Republican joined in the outcry, with at least one lawmaker saying “people will die” if the 1864 ban remains a law in the state.

However, Republican state Rep Teresa Martinez argued there was no reason to rush the debate, and accused Democrats of “screaming at us and engaging in extremist and insurrectionist behaviour on the House floor.” The GOP-led Senate briefly convened without debate on abortion.

“We are navigating an extremely complex, emotional and important area of law and policy,” said Ms Martinez, the GOP House whip.

“In my opinion, removing healthy babies from healthy mothers is not health care nor reproductive care. Pregnancy is not an illness. It should be celebrated. It is an abortion that terminates life.”

Arizona State Rep Stephanie Stahl Hamliton speaks on floor at the Capitol (AP)
Arizona State Rep Stephanie Stahl Hamliton speaks on floor at the Capitol (AP)

But Democrats disagreed. “We know that the Supreme Court decision yesterday is extreme. And we know that should the 1864 ban on abortion remain a law in Arizona, people will die,” said Democratic state Rep Stephanie Stahl Hamilton.

Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs called inaction on the proposed repeal unconscionable.

“Radical legislators protected a Civil War-era total abortion ban that jails doctors, strips women of our bodily autonomy and puts our lives at risk,” she said.

Meanwhile, state Rep Matt Gress was one of at least three GOP legislators in Arizona to openly oppose the ban, proposing a motion to repeal the law and arguing a near-total ban “is not reflective of the values of the vast majority of our electorate, regardless of political affiliation. ... This issue transcends all.”

Former president Donald Trump also opposed the ban this week, calling on officials in Arizona to work together to bring the state’s abortion laws back within the realm of “reason.”

“It’ll be straightened out and as you know, it’s all about states’ rights,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “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.”

Mr Trump on Monday sought to lay out his stance on abortion rights, bragging in a video message that he was “proudly the person responsible” for the overturning of Roe v Wade, the 1973 landmark ruling that had enshrined the right to an abortion and reproductive care.

Arizona State Rep Teresa Martinez texts on House floor at the Capitol (AP)
Arizona State Rep Teresa Martinez texts on House floor at the Capitol (AP)

“Many people have asked me what my position is on abortion and abortion rights, especially since I was proudly the person responsible for something that all legal scholars on both sides wanted and in fact demanded be ended: Roe vs Wade. They wanted it ended,” he said.

However, he stopped short of supporting a federal abortion ban, arguing that the issue of abortion rights should be left to states.

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 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.

Since the constitutional right to abortion was banned in the US, total bans on the procedure have been implemented in Indiana and North Dakota. Meanwhile, abortions are banned after six weeks of pregnancy in South Carolina and twelve weeks in North Carolina and Nebraska.

Altogether, 14 states have enacted near-total abortion bans.