White House condemns ‘catastrophic’ decision allowing Arizona’s 1864 anti-abortion law to take effect

The White House has warned of “catastrophic, dangerous and unacceptable” consequences to follow a judge’s decision upholding Arizona’s 158-year-old anti-abortion law, initially drafted 48 years before Arizona was even a state.

In a statement on 24 September, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre warned the judge’s decision will “set Arizona women back more than a century.”

“While we await next steps on any implementation of the law, the potential consequences of this ruling are catastrophic, dangerous and unacceptable,” she said.

The law – written more than 100 years before the US Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade overturned state-level bans on abortion care – prohibits all abortions in the state except to save the life of the patient.

The abortion ban was updated in 1901. Arizona became a state in 1912. But the sweeping abortion prohibition from the state’s territorial history decades earlier has remain on the books, but unenforced, for more than a century, despite the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling found the law and others like it unconstitutional.

With the decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization on 24 June, the nation’s high court revoked a constitutional right to abortion care and determined that such decisions lie solely with individual states.

In her ruling on 23 September, Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson cited the recent Dobbs decision and said that the court “finds that because the legal basis for the judgment entered in 1973 has now been overruled, it must vacate the judgment in its entirety.”

The state’s Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich celebrated the judge’s decision.

“We applaud the court for upholding the will of the legislature and providing clarity and uniformity on this important issue,” he said.

The judge lifted the injunction one day before a state law restricting abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy was due to take effect.

Conflicting restrictions on abortion care in the state have created confusion and chaos among providers and advocates, while Mr Brnovich pushed for more severe restrictions and Republican Governor Doug Ducey defended the 15-week ban.

The recently upheld law that originated from 1863 mandates a two- to five-year prison sentence for anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion.

“If this decision stands, health care providers would face imprisonment of up to five years for fulfilling their duty of care; survivors of rape and incest would be forced to bear the children of their assaulters; and women with medical conditions would face dire health risks,” according to Ms Jean-Pierre.

Abortion rights advocates have vowed to continue fighting the law in courts and to campaign against Mr Brnovich, who is term limited and facing Democratic nominee Kris Mayes in November.

The abortion ban will have a “devasting effect throughout our borders and beyond,” according to Caroline Mello Roberson, southwest regional director for NARAL Pro-Choice. “We’re working alongside our 75,000 members across the Copper State to send a clear message: When you come for our rights, we come for your seat.”

Planned Parenthood Arizona condemned the revival of the “archaic” law that the organisation said will send “Arizonans back nearly 150 years.”

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs also said in a statement she is “mourning” the decision and has pledged to strike down anti-abortion legislation, if elected.

“Medical professionals will now be forced to think twice and call their lawyer before providing patients with oftentimes necessary, lifesaving care,” she said in a statement.

Ms Jean-Pierre said that the “backwards decision exemplifies the disturbing trend across the country of Republican officials at the local and national level dead-set on stripping women of their rights, including through Senator Graham’s proposed national abortion ban,” referring to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s recent proposal to outlaw abortion nationwide at 15 weeks.

More than a dozen states have effectively outlawed all abortions, with limited exceptions, in recent months. As many as 26 states are expected to advance bans or severe restrictions on abortion care without constitutional protections in place under Roe.