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Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Moves Closer Towards Reviving 19th-Century Abortion Ban


Anzhe Zhang

Galvanized by the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last month, the Republican-led Arizona Legislature is now working towards reviving a 158-year-old territorial-era law, originating in 1864, that would sentence doctors to two to five years in prison for providing abortions.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a motion asking to lift the injunction against the law, arguing that it was the most accurate form of an abortion law in the state, despite the fact that the 19th-century law was conceived decades before Arizona even gained statehood.

According to polls, the majority of Arizona voters overwhelmingly oppose the revival of this territorial-era law that bans abortions and also seeks out punitive measures. A Phoenix-based research firm found that 52 percent of Arizona voters were against an abortion ban in the state while 28 percent supported a total ban with a few minor exceptions. Meanwhile 14 percent of voters were undecided on the issue while 6 percent refused to divulge.

While Arizona is seen largely as an abortion-unfriendly state due to both its Republican governor and legislature, polls found that only 33 percent of Arizona voters supported the overturn of Roe v. Wade, while 52 percent voters opposed the ruling that revoked nearly half a century of abortion rights in the state.

It speaks to the volatility of this issue in the state, where 65 percent of Democrats surveyed in polls note that the Supreme Court ruling has made them more likely to vote in the midterms, and 77 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans say that a candidate’s position on abortions will be impacting how they vote.

Brnovich, who is also one of Arizona’s Republican candidates running for the U.S. Senate, has had a long history of being hostile to abortion access, having partcipated in the amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, and having defended numerous anti-abortion law provisions in the past.

“It is outrageous that Arizona’s attorney general is trying to revive this zombie law that has long been blocked,” Gail Deady, the staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, pointing out that the health outcomes of residents should not be determined by “a century-old, draconian law.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has already caused absolute chaos in states like Arizona, and this move only adds to the mass confusion on the ground. Arizona’s multiple, conflicting abortion laws on the books have trapped providers and patients in limbo, leaving them without any sense of whether they can provide and access abortion care,” Deady continued.

The unclear legality of abortion access in Arizona following the federal overturn of Roe v. Wade has created a chilling effect, with most abortion providers having stopped services in the state over uncertainty regarding both the territorial-era abortion law and bills introduced by Republican lawmakers, such as Senate Bill 1457, which attempts to provide personhood rights to fetuses.