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State court rules that Arizona should follow restrictive abortion law from the 1860s


Abortion will soon be banned in Arizona, with few exceptions. Today, justices on the state Supreme Court decided to let an old law from 1864 take effect. Under that law, only abortions to save the life of a pregnant person will be allowed. Arizona will join more than a dozen other states in banning abortion. Reporter Katherine Davis-Young from member station KJZZ in Phoenix is covering this. Hi there.


SHAPIRO: So Arizona had this very old abortion law on the books. What exactly did the court decide today?

DAVIS-YOUNG: Well, justices were deciding between two seemingly conflicting abortion laws. There was one passed just a few months before Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, and that outlaws abortions after 15 weeks. But there was also this other law, which dates back to 1864, and that bans abortions in almost all cases. And that's never been overturned. Doctors have been following that newer 15-week law, but today, the state Supreme Court says Arizona should be following the older law, which was adopted back before Arizona was even a state. And that law makes no exceptions for rape or incest, and it makes performing an abortion punishable by 2 to 5 years in prison.

SHAPIRO: Criminal prosecution for performing an abortion is notable. What's been the response from abortion rights supporters?

DAVIS-YOUNG: Well, Democrats in the state have been very quick to decry this ruling. Kris Mayes is Arizona's attorney general. She's a Democrat. She says she believes this old abortion ban violates the state constitution, and she says she's not going to enforce it.

KRIS MAYES: As long as I am attorney general of the state of Arizona, no woman or doctor will be prosecuted under this draconian law - no woman or doctor.

DAVIS-YOUNG: So opponents of hers, including the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, say she really doesn't have the authority not to enforce the old law now that justices have upheld it. But even though Mayes is promising not to prosecute anyone, abortion providers I have heard from today don't sound very reassured by that. I heard at least two doctors saying they planned to follow this law once it is in effect.

But the timing of when it would go into effect is still kind of vague. The court left some room for parties in the case to bring up further legal issues before the law is enforced. So Planned Parenthood Arizona, the state's largest abortion provider, anticipates they will be able to continue providing abortions at least through mid-May.

SHAPIRO: Do you have a sense or are there good polling numbers about how people in Arizona feel about abortion, pro or con?

DAVIS-YOUNG: Polling suggests the majority of Arizona voters do support keeping abortion legal in the state, at least in some circumstances. In November, voters may have a say on whether people in the state will be able to access the procedure. There is an effort underway here, like in about a dozen other states, to get a constitutional amendment onto our ballots that would protect abortion rights. Organizers in Arizona have until July to turn in signatures for that, and they say they already have more than enough signatures to get their measure onto ballots. There's already an opposition group preparing to block that measure. They say it would be much too broad. But backers of the initiative today say they were devastated by this ruling, but now they're just further energized to go out and promote their ballot measure.

SHAPIRO: That's Katherine Davis-Young, a reporter with member station KJZZ in Phoenix, Ariz. Thanks a lot.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Katherine Davis-Young
[Copyright 2024 KJZZ]