AZ Democrats look to abortion to help them win the legislature in 2024

Arizona Democrats are hoping to sweep the November elections, bolstered by a reproductive rights stance that sharply contrasts attacks on abortion access from Republicans. 

“While Republicans are running on their anti-freedom agenda of taking away rights and dictating women’s private health care decisions, Democrats from state legislatures to the Oval Office are committed to making sure people have more rights, not fewer,” said Yolanda Bejarano, the chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, during a Friday news conference commemorating the anniversary of Roe v. Wade

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Bejarano blasted former President Donald Trump and his allies for facilitating the fall of Roe in 2022 and said the party’s undeterred support for abortion bans will prove detrimental at the ballot box this year. Trump, the widely regarded frontrunner to be the GOP’s nominee for president, has so far been unwilling to clarify his position on abortion bans, but has struck a staunchly pro-life stance, supporting just a few exceptions, and recently celebrated his success in establishing a conservative U.S. Supreme Court that overturned the constitutional right to abortion as a “miracle.” 

In Arizona, Republican legislative leaders joined an anti-abortion doctor in court to push for the reinstatement of a near-total abortion ban from 1864. Currently, the state is ruled by a 2022 law that prohibits all elective abortions beyond 15 weeks, except in the case of life-threatening emergencies. 

But that could change if the Arizona Supreme Court decides to reverse a December 2022 ruling that upheld the gestational deadline over the 160-year-old law. The state’s high court heard the case last month, but has yet to issue a decision.

And Republican lawmakers, who make up a legislature that is more conservative than ever before, have been unmoved by the threat of the governor’s veto stamp. Last year, Republicans proposed measures increasing the penalties for assaulting pregnant women, allowing pregnant women to drive in the HOV lane and making child support payments retroactive to the date of the first positive pregnancy test — all of which would have codified fetal personhood and effectively outlawed every abortion in the Grand Canyon State.

The best way to protect Arizona women from increasingly hostile abortion laws is to back Democratic candidates who will fight for reproductive access, Bejarano said. The 2022 midterm elections saw Democrats win statewide offices, erecting a bulwark against Republican anti-abortion bills, but new policy can’t be enacted without a legislative majority. The GOP currently holds a slim one-vote majority in each chamber.

“Our work is not done,” Bejarano said. “We are two seats away from flipping the legislature, where we can usher in an era where the Arizona legislature is a champion for reproductive health care.” 

Democrats have already begun backing proposals that showcase their goals. Gov. Katie Hobbs, in her state of the state address, announced an intent to repeal the 1864 near-total abortion ban, removing it from the books as a threat forever. A bill introduced this week would do just that, as well as eliminate the state’s prohibition on advertising abortion care. 

Hobbs and lawmakers have also vowed to do away with state-mandated reporting on abortions

And last year, Democratic lawmakers debuted a Right to Contraception Act, promising to put Republicans who oppose the act on the record. Protecting Arizonans’ ability to seek contraception is part of the Democratic Party’s priorities, said Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, D-Tucson, who is sponsoring this year’s bill that would enshrine guaranteed access into state law. 

“It is ever more important that, yes, we are not only the line of defense but that we continue to push and work towards a state that will allow all people to have reproductive healthcare and reproductive rights and justice,” she said, during the Friday afternoon news conference.

But the Democratic proposals are likely to be nonstarters in the Republican legislature, where GOP lawmakers decide which bills are considered. To get Democrat bills out of the legislature and onto the governor’s desk, the party first needs to win a legislative majority and Stahl Hamilton called on voters to make that a reality. 

“We will have the opportunity to create a trifecta in this state: Democratic trifectas in the House and the Senate and the Governor’s tower,” Stahl Hamilton said. “Flipping just two seats in (both) the House and Senate could fundamentally change Arizona’s abortion access.” 

Democrats are counting on a focus on reproductive rights to attract Arizonans to the polls to vote for pro-choice candidates, and part of that is relying on the mobilizing effort for the Arizona Abortion Access Act. The initiative, which is still in the signature-gathering stage but is on track to secure the 383,923 signatures required to qualify for the November ballot, would make abortion access a constitutional right in the Grand Canyon State. 

In other states, abortion initiatives drove voter turnout and won big. In Kansas, a record number of voters showed up to defeat a constitutional amendment that would have empowered lawmakers to eliminate abortion protections. In Ohio, voters resoundingly rejected an initiative seeking to make it more difficult to pass a constitutional right to abortion, and later approved abortion protections.  And in Virginia, where an abortion initiative wasn’t on the ballot but the procedure was still at the forefront of voters’ minds, Democrats snagged a legislative majority

All of that, Bejarano said, is a good indicator for what the November election in Arizona will look like.

“This issue is going to be one that brings people out. The reality is that women do not want to be told what they can do with their bodies,” she said.

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