Arizona judge rules state can enforce near-total abortion ban


Abortion rights supporters chant during rally in Tucson, Arizona, on July 4, 2022. [Sandy Huffaker | AFP | Getty Images]

An Arizona Superior Court judge ruled Friday that a 1901 ban on nearly all abortions in that state can be enforced, a decision that is likely to see an appeal and is all but certain to galvanize female voters to turn out in greater numbers in the state’s closely contested US Senate and governor’s races.


In ruling that Arizona’s near-total ban on abortion could take effect, Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson granted a request by the state’s Republican attorney general to lift a court injunction that had barred enforcement of Arizona’s pre-statehood ban on abortion after the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade in 1973.


“The court finds that because the legal basis for the judgment entered in 1973 has now been overruled, it must vacate the judgment in its entirety,” Johnson wrote in the ruling released Friday.


The case has thrust the issue of how restrictive abortion law should be in Arizona, a swing state that President Joe Biden carried by fewer than 11,000 votes. It’s a controversial topic that has divided Republicans in Arizona and is reflective of a pitched debate nationwide in the wake of the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in late June, with many GOP-led states passing increasingly restrictive measures that run the risk of alienating moderate voters.


The judge’s ruling effectively outlaws all abortions in Arizona except when the procedure is necessary to save the mother’s life. The decision came a day before a 15-week ban on abortion was slated to go into effect in Arizona. That law was passed by Arizona lawmakers before the US Supreme Court decision.


Conservative Arizona lawmakers included language in the bill banning abortion after 15 weeks stating that the new legislation would not override the 1901 law – which was passed before Arizona became a state and can be traced back to as early as 1864. In addition to barring abortion in all cases except when “it is necessary to save (the mother’s) life,” the pre-statehood law carries a prison sentence of two to five years for abortion providers.


While fighting the attorney general’s move to allow the 1901 abortion ban to be enforced, abortion rights groups had argued that if both laws were to go into effect, it would create significant confusion for both abortion providers and women seeking care. But the judge said in her ruling that she was not weighing in on how the conflict between Ar