Photos: Dozens protest Az court decision on abortion, vow to push for November measure

Hours after the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a near-total ban on abortion, ruling on Tuesday an 1864-era law can be enforced, dozens of women assembled at El Presidio Plaza in Downtown Tucson to criticize the decision and push for a constitutional amendment to protect the medical procedure.

The court’s ruling immediately attracted fierce criticism from reproductive rights supporters and Democratic politicians, and even some Republicans pivoted to say they opposed it, but opponents of abortion welcomed the decision.

The court’s ruling may not mean an immediate halt to abortions in Arizona as the case continues, and Pima County Attorney Laura Conover said she will seek to remand the case back to the trial court, however, the ruling firmly makes abortion rights a central issue in November’s election. 

“The Legislature has demonstrated its consistent design to restrict
elective abortion to the degree permitted by the Supremacy Clause and an
unwavering intent since 1864 to proscribe elective abortions absent a
federal constitutional right,” the court majority said, in a decision
written by Justice John Lopez.

One of the court’s two female
members, Vice Chief Justice Ann Timmer, wrote a dissent that was joined
by Chief Justice Robert Brutinel.

“In my view, the majority
mistakenly returns us to the territorial-era abortion statute last
operative in 1973. I would leave it to the people and the Legislature to
determine Arizona’s course in the wake of Roe’s demise,” she wrote.

The
majority also said that the issue should be up to lawmakers and the
“initiative process,” but upheld the law banning abortions in the state.

On Tuesday morning, local leaders immediately criticized the state
court’s decision and urged voters to choose President Joe Biden over
ex-president Donald Trump in November. Meanwhile, organizers for a state constitutional
amendment continued to gather signatures.

As the sun ducked low and the historic Pima County Courthouse glimmered in the coppery sunset, organizers said they had already gathered 500,000 signatures, but wanted
more because they expect legal challenges. They’ll need to gather more
than 383,923 verified voter signatures to get the measure on the ballot, however, organizers are aiming for around 750,000.

A similar effort in 2022 ended after organizers failed to gather enough signatures to put the issue to voters.

Gov. Katie Hobbs called it a “dark day” for Arizona, and urged state lawmakers to repeal the Civil War-era statute that could mean prison time for anyone assisting in an abortion.

“We are 14 days away from this extreme ban coming back to life. It must be repealed immediately,” the Democratic governor said.

Hobbs said she didn’t have faith GOP lawmakers, who control the state Legislature, would act to do so.

“They refuse to act to protect IVF and contraception,” Hobbs said. “Instead, they tell women to put aspirin between their knees. Well, I’m proud to be a backstop to their extremism.”

“Arizona women should never have to fear the next court decision,” she said, urging support for an initiative that would add reproductive rights to Arizona’s Constitution.

Under the law, anyone who facilitates a procedure that causes a miscarriage or abortion can face two to five years in prison. While Arizona’s law makes it a crime to aid a woman in a miscarriage or abortion, the law does allow for such procedures if they are “necessary to save her life.”

State and local leaders have said they won’t enforce the territorial-era law.  State Attorney General Kris Mayes, an elected Democrat who has said she won’t enforce any restrictions on abortion, said the ruling is “unconscionable and an affront to freedom. Make no mistake, by effectively striking down a law passed this century and replacing it with one from 160 years ago, the court has risked the health and lives of Arizonans.”

The state Supreme Court decision had been pending since a hearing in December.

Abortion rights advocates have been on tenterhooks since May 2022 when a draft Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade—the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion legal in the U.S.— was leaked.

In the decision. Justice Samuel Alito struck down Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed federal constitutional protections for abortions rights, as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 decision that reiterated the right.

In the published opinion, Alito argued that Roe v. Wade “was egregiously wrong from the start.” 

“It is time to heed to the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” he wrote. While Chief Justice John Roberts attempted to rein in the court, limiting the decision to merely uphold Mississippi’s law limiting abortion rights, Alito and the rest of the conservative bloc went even further, ruling that Roe v. Wade and Casey were wrongly decided.

And, even as Justice Brett Kavanaugh tried to limit the decision’s effect on a series of other cases based around the constitutional right to privacy, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion the court should consider challenges to those cases as well, putting not only the right to contraception on the table, but also the right to engage in consensual sexual acts, and gay marriage.

Following the court’s ruling, 26 states, including Arizona, moved to block abortions.

That March, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill into law that made it illegal for a woman to have an abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even if the patient was a victim of incest or rape. The new law is supposed to take effect in September. However in the meantime, then-state Attorney General Mark Brnovich attempted to lift his faltering Senate campaign by arguing that an 158-year-old statute that outlaws all abortions — written when Arizona was still a territory, but still on the books — was still enforceable and women or health care providers could face legal action. That law, which was passed in 1864 was then recodified in 1901 and only allows for abortions if the life of the mother is threatened.

After
a short speech, organized answered a few questions and then they urged
the small crowd of about three dozen women and a few men to head to
Congress Street to protest against the court’s decision.

They later vowed to launch more protests in the coming weeks to protect abortion rights in Arizona.