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‘Catastrophic,’ ‘a shock’: Arizona’s abortion ruling threatens to upend 2024 races

A near-total abortion ban slated to go into effect in the coming weeks in Arizona is expected to have a seismic impact on the politics of the battleground state, testing the limits of Republican support for abortion restrictions and putting the issue front and center in November’s election.

Arizona’s conservative Supreme Court on Tuesday revived a near-total ban on abortion, invoking an 1864 law that forbids the procedure except to save a mother’s life and punishes providers with prison time. The decision supersedes Arizona’s previous rule, which permitted abortions up to 15 weeks.

Arizonans are poised to consider the issue in November, now that the groups working to amend the state’s constitution to enshrine abortion rights — which include the ACLU of Arizona and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona — say that they have acquired enough signatures to establish a ballot measure, according to the Arizona Republic. Meanwhile, Republicans in the state are asking Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) and the Republican-led state legislature to come up with a solution.

The developments in Arizona are part of a wave of state actions to reckon with the future of access to reproductive care after the U.S. Supreme Court, with a conservative majority installed during Donald Trump’s presidency, overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. While several states enacted abortion restrictions as a result of overturning Roe, protecting access to reproductive care has broadly been a winning issue for Democratic candidates and for ballot measures that protect abortion access in the elections since the 2022 ruling.

As a battleground state, there is a lot on the line in Arizona’s looming elections. President Biden is running for reelection after winning the state in 2020 by fewer than 11,000 votes, and the race for a Senate seat in the state could prove crucial in determining which party controls the body next year. The balance of the statehouse is at stake this election cycle, too, with Republicans holding a one-vote majority in each chamber.

Polls show that abortion is a motivating issue for Arizona voters.

An October New York Times-Siena College poll found that 59 percent of Arizona registered voters said abortion should be mostly or always legal; 34 percent said it should be mostly or always illegal. A March Fox News poll also found 39 percent of Arizona voters said abortion would be extremely important in deciding their vote for president, with another 32 percent saying it would be very important. Voters who supported Biden in 2020 were nearly twice as likely to say the issue would be extremely important in their vote, 51 percent to 27 percent.

In the hours following Arizona’s abortion decision, Republicans who previously were vocal advocates of restricting abortion found themselves in an unfamiliar position: condemning a change that will restrict reproductive care in their state.

Despite having supported abortion restrictions in the past, two Arizona House Republicans representing districts Biden won, Reps. David Schweikert and Juan Ciscomani, each said they opposed Tuesday’s ruling. And Kari Lake — the staunch ally of Trump running in one of the most closely watched Senate races this cycle — called Tuesday’s ruling “out of step with Arizonans.”

Lake had previously celebrated the overturning of Roe and once expressed support for the 1864 bill. But on Tuesday, she called on the Arizona state legislature and Hobbs, to whom she lost a gubernatorial race last year, to “come up with an immediate common sense solution that Arizonans can support.”

At a GOP gubernatorial debate in 2022, Lake said she approved of the territorial-era law banning all abortions.

“My personal belief is that all life matters. All life counts, and all life is precious, and I don’t believe in abortion,” she said then. “I think the older law is going to take and is going to go into effect. That’s what I believe will happen.”

Since announcing her run for Senate, Lake has moderated her public statements on abortion, telling NBC News in March that she supports access to abortion up to 15 to 24 weeks and said Arizona’s previous standard of 15 weeks was a “good law.”

Despite disagreeing with the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday, Lake said in her statement that she believes the issue of abortion should be decided on a state level and not federally — echoing Trump, who made a case for states’ rights on Monday.

Stan Barnes, a Republican consultant who previously served in Arizona’s state legislature, said Tuesday’s ruling was “a shock to the Republican body politic in Arizona” that will have “a tremendous impact on the 2024 election outcome.”

“I’m trying to think of when there was a more stunning, political phenomenon injected into an election cycle and I can’t think of one. It’s just a powerful change in the political landscape leading up to the 2024 general election,” added Barnes, who runs Copper State Consulting Group.

Max Fose, an Arizona Republican operative who formerly worked for then-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said he thinks Tuesday’s ruling also will “definitely give Biden a leg up going into the election.” Fose argued that the court basically “pushed Arizona back to the Civil War days” — something he predicted the state’s voters would reject.

“If we look at it, it’s like 9 percent of the electorate is Republican swing voters, that represents 234,000 people,” he said. “They just slummed those people over to Biden’s corner.”

The high political stakes are not lost on Democrats.

Tony Cani, a Democratic strategist who was deputy director for Biden’s 2020 campaign in Arizona, said he thinks the ruling “is going to be catastrophic for” Republicans in his state.

“This is earth-shattering,” said Cani, who founded Slingshot Campaigns. “This is going to create an overwhelming wave of voters who otherwise might not have been enthusiastic about this election, or otherwise might not have voted at all, to go in and vote literally for their lives and for their rights.”

Democrats have criticized Republicans running for office for months over their stance on abortion, and Tuesday’s ruling, they suggested, has given them more ammunition.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a memo last Friday that abortion-related ballot initiatives expected to appear in several states on Election Day will play to their party’s advantage. Eighteen House districts the DCCC has identified as battlegrounds are in states — including Arizona — that will have or are likely to have an abortion initiative on the ballot in November.

Following Tuesday’s Arizona ruling, DCCC spokeswoman Lauryn Fanguen said Ciscomani and Schweikert were “working overtime to restrict access to abortion care.” And Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Maeve Coyle highlighted Lake’s previous support of the 1864 law, saying that “Arizonans must reject this abortion ban and reject Kari Lake at the ballot box” to restore “their rights and freedoms.”

Biden’s reelection campaign put the blame for the Arizona ruling squarely on the president’s 2024 rival.

“What’s happening in Arizona is only possible because Donald Trump overturned Roe v. Wade,” Jen Cox, a Biden campaign senior adviser in Arizona, said in a statement. “No one should discount the impact this has on women across our state and — as we saw in 2022 — Democrats, Independents, and Republicans are going to hold Trump accountable.”

Later this week, Vice President Harris is scheduled to visit Tucson to discuss reproductive freedoms, according to the White House. The visit, which was in the works before Tuesday’s ruling, will give the Biden administration yet another opportunity to speak out against enacting restrictive reproductive policies and Republicans who appoint judges whose decisions have led to stringent limits on reproductive care.

Arizona Democratic strategist Stacy Pearson said it became clear to many women in Arizona that the state’s Supreme Court would try to overturn abortion access after then-Gov. Doug Ducey (R) expanded the court in 2016 and appointed conservative justices, and the Republican-led state legislature failed to repeal the territorial ban.

Now, she said, Republicans have begun to “realize that their plan was mistimed.” As a result, she argues, Democrats have an opportunity to capture the U.S. Senate seat and control of Arizona’s state legislature by continuing to run on their messaging about protecting access to abortion.

“This is one of those issues that Democrats have just gotten right from the jump. It isn’t hard to convince voters where the Democrats stand on autonomy,” she said. “This could very well tip the control of the Arizona state legislature and have a Democratic controlled chamber for the first time in my adult [life].”

The decision to add the measure protecting abortion access to the ballot, she noted, also is likely to end up before the state’s Supreme Court.

Patrick Svitek, Azi Paybarah and Scott Clement contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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