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Patchwork of abortion laws, legal challenges add layer of complexity to issue

The differing laws are the result of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
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Posted at 1:27 PM, May 06, 2024

Arizona is at the epicenter of an abortion dilemma that has seen states roll out a patchwork of laws in the two years since Roe was overturned.

On May 2, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs signed a bill to repeal an 1864 Civil War-era abortion ban that was resurrected by the state Supreme Court in April.

“In those 160 years, the Arizona legislature never took the step of repealing this statute,” Jennifer Piatt, an Arizona State University research scholar and the co-director of the Center for Public Health Law and Policy at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law said.

In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade after hearing the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. The decision gave states the power to ban abortions or implement more restrictions.

“This is an issue that really emerged across a number of different states in the chaos in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision,” Piatt said.

Roe ensured access to abortion across the country for nearly 50 years. The Supreme Court’s reversal of that decision ignited protests and sent states scrambling to issue abortion guidance, as some states navigated abortion laws that were in the books for more than a century.

In Arizona, the state is currently abiding by a 15-week abortion ban signed by former Gov. Doug Ducey in 2022, but the pre-statehood 1864 abortion law could take effect as early as June 27. The repeal approved by lawmakers would take effect 90 days after the legislative session concludes, in June or July.

In a statement, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes said her office was exploring every option available to prevent the 1864 law from taking effect.

Advocates who oppose protecting abortion told Scripps News they were disappointed the 1864 ban would be repealed.

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In 2022, after Roe was overturned, West Virginia officials claimed the state’s 1849 abortion ban would take effect but challenges impacted its ability to become the law. The state currently bans abortions and has limited exceptions.

In Wisconsin, a 174-year-old abortion law banned abortion at any point in pregnancy with no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the pregnant individual. That law only made an exception for cases in which a medical provider determined it was necessary to preserve the life of the mother. This year, the state approved a bill to ban abortions after 14 weeks.

The patchwork of laws makes it difficult for people to navigate what is and isn't legal in their state.

“It just makes it difficult to make basic choices about, you know, your health and well-being,” Heather Gerrish, an Arizona resident, said.

Gerrish has a 13-month-old baby. While she says her child was very much wanted, she admits that being pregnant was still scary.

“In this day and age your health and safety isn't guaranteed when you're pregnant,” Gerrish said.

At least 14 states have banned abortion. On May 1, Florida began enforcing a 6-week abortion ban like the Georgia and North Carolina abortion bans. Some democratic states have laws or executive orders to protect access to abortion.

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The varying laws across the country, at times, lack clarity, advocates say. Piatt adds that the laws force medical providers to think twice before agreeing to perform an abortion because the decision could potentially cost them their medical license or land them in prison.

“I am of the opinion that some of the murkiness in these abortion laws is a feature, and not a bug, for anti-abortion politicians,” Piatt said.

Perpetual challenges abortion laws face can also increase confusion.

“New constitutional amendments can be drafted and I think it's a kind of unclear, very much shifting and changing legal landscape,” Piatt said.

Arizona is one of seven swing states in the 2024 presidential election. President Joe Biden narrowly won Arizona in 2020 by 10,457 votes, the closest win in the state’s history.

President Biden has criticized former President Donald Trump for taking credit for overturning Roe v. Wade. The president is campaigning on reviving the landmark Roe ruling and has made abortion protection central to his reelection campaign.

According to Trump, it should be up to states to decide abortion laws. In an interview with Time Magazine Trump said he would let red states monitor women’s pregnancies and prosecute those who violate abortion bans.

While the abortion issue heats up in Arizona, efforts are underway for a ballot initiative to enshrine the right to an abortion in the state constitution. For a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment to qualify for the Nov. 5, 2024, election, advocates must gather 383,923 valid signatures. Advocates say they have collected the necessary amount of signatures, and organizations like Planned Parenthood continue to gather more.

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Daniela Gondolfo, an Arizona resident, said she collected several signatures from family members in the state who did not have access to the petitions.

“There is no reason that a woman should not have the rights to her own body, but I think that we have the power to change that if we go out and vote,” Gondolfo said.

Voters have sided with abortion rights supporters on measures in seven states.