The rallying cry after the Supreme Court’s abortion ban ruling

Armed with hand-made posters and signature petition sheets, hundreds converged at a busy intersection near the heart of downtown Scottsdale on Sunday to voice their anger at Arizona’s return to a Civil War-era law banning nearly all abortions. 

Less than a week earlier, the Arizona Supreme Court said that a near-total abortion ban from 1864 trumps a newer law restricting abortions to 15 weeks, outlawing all abortions except for those provided to save a woman’s life. 

A pause on the ruling delays its enforcement until June, but for protestors, the shock and indignation was still fresh. Attendees clustered at the intersection of Camelback and Scottsdale roads, waving signs reading “Women will die,” “We won’t go quietly back to 1864,” “Vote them out,” and chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho abortion bans have got to go!” as cars streaked past, many of them honking in reply. 



Chris Fleischman set up an array of posters around a bus stop shelter, keeping hold of one of three PVC pipes holding up a large cardboard sign reading “Remember in November” in bold lettering while arranging smaller posters with candidate names on them crossed out in red underneath it. 

Among those singled out were Kari Lake, who repeatedly backed the 1864 law during her gubernatorial run but has now sought to soften her stance, U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, who has supported legislation in Congress that critics say would amount to a national abortion ban, and state Rep. Matt Gress, who made headlines for his failed attempt to repeal the 1864 law but has also previously sought to enshrine fetal personhood in Arizona law

The goal, Fleischman said, was to let people know which anti-abortion politicians to vote out of office. 

“I want to point out who the people are so people can vote against them,” he said. “People don’t realize how important it is to vote, and this year it’s so important.” 

A protestor holds a sign at an April 14, 2024, protest in favor of reproductive rights and abortion access in Scottsdale. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror

Reproductive rights advocates have sounded the alarm over this year’s election as one of the most critical for defending abortion access since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure two years ago. In just that short period of time, abortion bans have proliferated across the country and the outcome of the November election has the potential to worsen that. 

Several seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, which is currently under Republican control, are up for grabs, including nine in Arizona. And at the top of the ticket, former President Donald Trump is seeking to recapture the White House. The Republican nominee recently pivoted on his position on abortion to reaffirm the rights of individual states to regulate the procedure, but has repeatedly bragged about his role in overturning Roe v. Wade in the past, and previously indicated support for a national 15-week ban

In Arizona, the focus on abortion access is even more spotlighted. A push to enshrine the procedure as a right in the state constitution is expected to make it to the November ballot, after the campaign behind it announced earlier this month that it has collected far above the number of signatures required to qualify. And Arizona Democrats are hoping the movement to protect abortion rights will mobilize voters to flip the state legislature, which is controlled by Republicans who hold a razor-thin one-vote majority in each chamber. 

The Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling to reinstate the 1864 law is widely regarded as a critical flashpoint in that effort, and is expected to further invigorate voters who support reproductive rights. 

Lindsay Kovner is one such voter. Less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was leaked, Kovner started an Instagram page titled “Blue Ma’am Group,” in the hopes of speaking out against the ruling and mobilizing like-minded people to act. On Sunday, she drove into Old Town Scottsdale from Phoenix with her 9-year-old daughter to teach her about the importance of making her voice heard. Kovner said she intends to vote for pro-choice candidates in November, and will reach out to her friends to convince them to do the same. 

“Our hope is a big blue wave,” she said. 

Deanne Hodgson, 81, echoed that hope, saying she was unimpressed by continued attacks on reproductive health care from uninformed politicians. 

“I’m sick and tired of men making laws about women’s health when they don’t know anything about it,” she said. 

A protestor holds a sign at an April 14, 2024, protest in favor of reproductive rights and abortion access in Scottsdale. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror

Nearby, health care workers in brightly colored scrubs posed for a picture with handcuffs clipped to their wrists. Some held up signs reading “health care not handcuffs,” in a nod to the 1864 near-total ban’s harsh punishments for medical providers who violate its provisions. If a doctor or health care worker provides an abortion for any reason other than saving their patient’s life, the law mandates a prison sentence of no less than 2 years and a maximum of five. 

One local OB-GYN told the Arizona Mirror that the law’s exception for life-saving procedures is insufficient and doesn’t take into account the vast array of situations women face. (The Arizona Mirror granted the doctor anonymity because she fears retaliation from her employer.) After nearly 19 years in the profession, the doctor said she’s seen pregnancy affect her patients’ physical well-being as well as their emotional health. One patient who suffered from severe post-partum depression committed suicide. 

But the 1864 law likely doesn’t contemplate the long-term effects of deteriorating mental health, instead allowing only for emergency health complications that immediately threaten a woman’s life. The Arizona Abortion Access Act, however, along with protecting access to the procedure up to 24 weeks, includes an exception for abortions performed after that point if the health care provider determines it’s necessary to safeguard the patient’s physical or mental health. 

Even the life-saving exception in the 1864 law puts providers in a tricky position, according to the OB-GYN, as it doesn’t specify which criteria they should look for when deciding whether or not to perform an abortion. Life and death situations, she said, can’t be determined by a single test. And that could lead to dangerous delays while doctors consult with legal representatives to figure out when a patient should receive potentially life-saving care.  

“What kind of parameters are you going to give me?” she asked. “Is their white blood cell count supposed to be this? Is their temperature supposed to be this? How many days are we supposed to let this go?” 

For Jen, who donned a t-shirt proclaiming “Everyone knows that I’ve had an abortion,” being able to end an unwanted pregnancy while she was stuck in an unhappy marriage was critical to preserving her autonomy and mental health. Jen, who was unwilling to give her last name, said she has never planned on having children and felt that, if she had not been able to obtain an abortion, she would have been a “bad” parent or would have ultimately ended her life during pregnancy. 

“Everyone should have access to an abortion,” she said. “No one should be forced to have children against their will.” 

A protestor holds a sign at an April 14, 2024, protest in favor of reproductive rights and abortion access in Scottsdale. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror

The court ruling reinstating a near-total ban on abortions incensed Jen, who knows what it means to face an unwanted future. Before, Jen had only committed to voting for the Arizona Abortion Access Act in November, but the court’s decision motivated her to pick up signature collection sheets and join the effort to get the act on the ballot. While the constitutional amendment has exceeded its signature requirement, the campaign is continuing to collect support to ensure a buffer against signatures that will eventually be thrown out during the verification process. 

Emily Phelps, a spokesperson for Stand Indivisible AZ, which organized the Sunday rally and is also spearheading a door-knocking campaign to promote the election of Democrats up and down the ballot, reported a 50% spike in volunteer applications a day after the Arizona Supreme Court released its ruling. 

And the Arizona Abortion Access Act campaign also saw heightened enthusiasm from signature gatherers and voters adding their names to petitions following the ruling, according to spokeswoman Chris Love. 

“I think folks are mad as hell about the decision,” Love said. “We’ve seen folks that were kind of waiting back, and sitting on the fence — they’ve really gotten off that fence.” 

A protestor holds a sign at an April 14, 2024, protest in favor of reproductive rights and abortion access in Scottsdale. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror

And while that renewed push is a boon for the campaign, the fallout from the court ruling also resulted in a new threat from the GOP majority in the legislature. Republican lawmakers, concerned about voter backlash over supporting the 1864 law but unwilling to fully support a repeal of the law, have signaled an interest in crafting a ballot initiative to oppose the Arizona Abortion Access Act

Love waved away that threat, saying she’d worry when the party showed any unity behind the idea; currently, Republicans in the legislature are fractured between those who staunchly oppose abortion and those gearing up for reelections in competitive districts who wish to repeal the 1864 law. To put an anti-abortion proposal on the ballot, the party needs the approval of all its members, as it can’t count on support from Democrats. 

Instead, Love said, the majority party should focus on repealing the 1864 law. While several attempts to do just that were made last week, each one failed. And adding an emergency clause to it that could strike down the law before the court ruled it could be enforced appears unlikely; to do so would require a supermajority vote, forcing Democrats to peel away more GOP supporters than the three needed in the state House and the two in the Senate necessary to achieving a successful repeal. 

So far, only four Republican lawmakers have publicly expressed any interest in repealing the law. 

With the November election quickly approaching, Love said the campaign to protect abortion rights is focused on recruiting support from everyday Arizonans. Public support for the procedure stands in stark contrast to the near-total ban that many in the state legislature back; one survey found that as much as 62% of Arizonans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. 

“We know that they believe the same thing that we do,” Love said, of Arizonans across the political spectrum. “Pregnant patients deserve the freedom to make their own personal health care decisions, especially decisions related to abortion, with their families and their health care providers — without politicians.”

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