Gloria Rebecca Gomez

(Arizona Mirror) After two weeks of thwarted attempts, the Arizona House of Representatives voted Wednesday to repeal a near-total abortion ban from 1864, with three Republican lawmakers breaking from their party to join Democrats in striking it down.

Earlier this month, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the 1864 law, which carries with it a mandatory prison sentence for doctors who provide an abortion for any reason other than saving a woman’s life, over a 15-week gestational ban passed in 2022.

The ruling sent shockwaves through Arizona’s political landscape, and several attempts to repeal the 160-year-old law in the state legislature on April 10 and April 17 were blocked by the GOP majority. At the time, only Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, who’s facing reelection in a swing district that has a history of punishing anti-abortion politicians, supported Democrats in their bid to eliminate the law before it’s set to go into effect on June 8.

But those initial pushes to strike the near-total ban from the books fell short by just one vote in a chamber controlled by Republicans. The stumbling block was a procedural motion to force a vote on the bill, which failed repeatedly because Gress was the only GOP lawmaker who voted to bring the repeal legislation to the floor.

That changed on Wednesday, when Republican Rep. Tim Dunn, R-Yuma, joined Gress in bucking House Speaker Ben Toma and the rest of the GOP caucus, allowing the vote to occur. Dunn and Gress then voted for to approve House Bill 2677, as did Rep. Justin Wilmeth, R-Phoenix.

The bill passed with a vote of 32-28 and has been sent to the state Senate for approval. Because the legislature is meeting just one day a week while budget negotiations ramp up, the earliest the upper chamber can take action on the bill is May 1. (The Senate on April 17 paved the way for the vote by introducing its own identical bill; when it convenes on May 1, the chamber is expected to substitute the House measure for the Senate bill. If it passes, it would be ready for Gov. Katie Hobbs to sign.)

Republicans who supported the 1864 near-total ban denounced the repeal during a litany of floor speeches, and criticized their colleagues who they viewed as going against the party’s core values.

“I am disgusted today,” said Rep. Rachel Jones, R-Tucson. “Life is one of the tenets of our Republican platform. To see people go back on that value is egregious to me.”

Rep. Alexander Kolodin, a Scottsdale Republican, blasted his colleagues and other Republicans who have said that failing to repeal the Civil War-era law will lead to GOP losses at the ballot this November — and could mean Democrats take control of the Legislature for the first time in decades.

“We’re willing to kill infants to win an election. Put in that context, it’s a little harder to stomach” Kolodin said. “Politics is important, but it’s not worth our souls.”

Toma, who is running to represent a staunchly Republican West Valley district in Congress, said that the 15-week gestational ban, which would take precedence if the 1864 law is repealed, is insufficient to protect the state’s most “vulnerable” population.

“I feel compelled to reiterate my personal view that this decision to repeal the abortion ban in Arizona effectively means that we are allowing the murder of unborn children up to 15 weeks of pregnancy,” Toma said.

The Glendale Republican voted to pass that law in 2022.

In a statement posted to social media site X, formerly Twitter, Gress pushed back on criticism of his support for repealing the 1864 law and sought to straddle the line between denouncing the Civil War-era law and affirming his pro-life bonafides.

“As someone who is both Pro-Life and the product of strong women in my life, I refuse to buy into the false notion pushed by the extremes on both sides of this issue that we cannot respect and protect women and defend new life at the same time,” he wrote.

Dunn, meanwhile, justified his vote to strike down the 1864 law by saying it was the only option left to defeat a pro-abortion initiative headed for the November ballot. And, he added, the 15-week limit approved in 2022 is preferable because it includes more leeway for women who face dangerous pregnancy complications.

The 15-week law includes exceptions for abortions performed after its gestational deadline if a woman is facing life threatening danger or permanent injury, while the exception in the 1864 near-total ban is strictly for imminently life-threatening situations. Neither law includes any exception for pregnancies arising from rape or incest.

“I am voting today to repeal (the 1864 law). By so doing, the Arizona law will revert to exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother, and outright ban all abortions after 15 weeks,” Dunn wrote in a statement posted to X. “Should the pre-Roe law remain in effect, I firmly believe more lives will be lost over time. The public backlash would result in codifying disturbing and unlimited abortions in the Arizona Constitution, which is something that I cannot allow to happen.”

The Arizona Abortion Access Act seeks to codify abortion as a right in the state Constitution up to 24 weeks of gestation, with ample exceptions beyond that point if a woman’s doctor deems performing an abortion is necessary to protect her life, physical or mental health. After the state Supreme Court ruled to reinstate the 1864 near-total ban, Republicans worried that Arizona voters, faced with a stark choice between no access or some access, would side with the initiative.