Arizona Republicans Are On the Run From the Abortion Issue

In 1864, which was not a tremendous time for women’s rights, Arizona passed a near-total abortion ban. It would prosecute any “person who provides, supplies or administers to a pregnant woman, or procures such woman to take any medicine, drugs or substance, or uses or employs any instrument or other means whatever, with intent thereby to procure the miscarriage of such woman, unless it is necessary to save her life.” The territorial law was still on the books when Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, but the Arizona government had passed a 15-week ban that same year that was intended to supersede it.

Alas, this assumption of supersession appears to have been a catastrophic legislative oopsie. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled this week that the 1864 ban is still enforceable and could go back into effect soon. This decision is pure political poison for Republicans running in a determinative swing state in a presidential election year. And it will add fuel to an effort to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution, a ballot initiative that likely will be on the ballot in November and help draw Democrats to the polls.

What you’re seeing among Arizona Republicans in competitive elections, then, is a race to distance themselves from the state Supreme Court’s decision. But—and not to tell them anything they don’t already know—their past comments aren’t going to make it easy for them to run away from this issue.

U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake, who is trying to soften her image after her hard-right 2022 gubernatorial campaign fell short, said in a statement Tuesday, “I oppose today’s ruling,” calling on state leaders “to come up with an immediate commonsense solution that Arizonans can support.” Lake, in her current campaign, has also come out against a federal abortion ban and demanded that in vitro fertilization be protected nationwide.

During her run for governor, though, Lake spoke more approvingly of the 1864 law, describing it in a June 2022 interview as a “great law that’s already on the books.” Lake’s campaign has argued that she was talking about the 15-week ban, which had already been signed into law when she made the comment. But she literally identified the near-total ban by statutory number and described its contents.

“I believe it’s ARS 13-3603, so it will prohibit abortion in Arizona except to save the life of a mother,” she said in the 2022 interview. “And I think we’re going to be paving the way and setting course for other states to follow.” Expect, if you watch television in Arizona, to have these words memorized by Election Day.

Arizona Rep. Dave Schweikert is, by this point, used to running from his past. Schweikert was a founding member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus in the mid-2010s, only to see his district become much more competitive as well-to-do suburbs turned bluer and redistricting landed him in a toss-up seat. He’s since worked to become less of a rabble-rouser, and he left the caucus in 2023.

In a post on Tuesday, Schweikert said, “I do not support today’s ruling from the AZ Supreme Court,” adding that the “issue should be decided by Arizonans, not legislated from the bench. I encourage the state legislature to address this issue immediately.”

Schweikert, unlike Lake, may not have a particularly excruciating sound bite on the books pointing out where specifically in the state code the “great” territorial abortion ban is. But the reviving of an archaic, draconian zombie abortion law is the sort of consequence that those who fought to protect Roe had warned about should it fall. And when Dobbs overturned Roe, Schweikert posted about how “pleased” he was with the decision. In the past, he has, similarly, co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act.

Republican Juan Ciscomani, meanwhile, who represents the other most competitive Arizona House seat, deemed the ruling a “disaster.” This was a couple of years after he had applauded the Supreme Court for overturning Roe. “A historic day!” he tweeted at the time. He had no idea.

None of them, really, had any idea. For 50 years, GOP members had a good political thing going. They could say whatever they needed to say about abortion to make it through a primary, without paying particular concern to general election consequences. The Supreme Court had found a right to abortion in the Constitution, so mouthing off about how abortion providers should face 19th-century justice was all a thought experiment. Leaving ludicrous Civil War–era laws on the books in their dormancy was easier politically than going out of your way to excise them, just in case. Celebrating the overturning of Roe was hard not to do when overturning Roe had been foundational to the conservative movement of the past half-century. But the bill came due two years ago, and the reminders will come again, again, and again.