Arizona revives 19th-century law to ban abortions

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at a news conference on Tuesday in Washington after the ruling in Arizona - Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

Arizona’s highest court has revived a 160-year-old law banning all abortions unless a mother’s life is at risk and punishing doctors who perform the procedure with prison sentences.

The ruling could be a major boost for Democrats in a key battleground state in 2024’s general election, with polls showing reproductive rights to be a galvanising issue for many voters.

Joe Biden reacted to the ruling in Arizona on Tuesday, calling it “extreme and dangerous”.

The US president has cast his White House opponent Donald Trump and his Republican backers in Congress as “extreme” and out of touch with the public mood on the issue.

“This ruling is a result of the extreme agenda of Republican elected officials who are committed to ripping away women’s freedom,” he said.

On Monday, Mr Trump said he believed the question of abortion access should be left to each state to determine.

Arizona, which Mr Biden narrowly carried in 2020, is critical to Democrats’ hopes of retaining the White House and control of the US Senate, with one of its two seats on the ballot in November 2024.

Abortion rights activists
Abortion rights activists embrace during a news conference that announced the revived law in Arizona - Joel Angel Juarez/USA Today Network/via Reuters
Pro-abortion rally
A pro-abortion rally. Republicans fear the issue could lose the party votes - Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images

The decision by the state’s conservative Supreme Court justices upholds an 1864 law that prohibits abortions from the moment of conception, including in cases involving rape or incest.

Anyone who administers a termination could face fines and a jail term of two to five years.

The only exception to the near-total ban is in cases threatening the life of the mother.

Critics have pointed out the territorial law predates Arizona achieving statehood, the end of the American Civil War or women securing the right to vote.

The Arizona Supreme Court’s 4-2 decision overrides existing legislation signed into law by the state’s former Republican governor allowing abortions until 15 weeks into a pregnancy.

Not enforced for 14 days

The ruling could have far-reaching consequences for millions of women and would make Arizona the 16th US state to effectively ban terminations since the overturning of Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 case enshrining women’s constitutional right to an abortion.

However, the Arizona Supreme Court said its ruling could not be enforced for 14 days, allowing for a lower court to hear additional arguments about the law’s constitutionality.

Democrats in Arizona are pushing to include a vote on implementing a constitutional right to abortion on the ballot in the state in the presidential election.

Reproductive rights have proved to be a winning issue for the party, with voters in Wisconsin, Kansas and Michigan all voting to adopt abortion rights protections since America’s highest court repealed Roe v Wade in 2022.