No Longer 1864: Reversal of the Abortion Bill Potentially Upending Election

For a number of weeks, Arizona Republicans were extremely nervous, Democrats were furious, and the eyes of the country (sometimes even the world) were once again on Arizona, as the state Supreme Court ruled that an abortion law from all the way back in 1864 was once again the law of the land. This ruling would ensure that abortion was about to be the most important topic for many voters in November, threatening to throw the balance of power to Democrats.

That is, until last week, where a few Republicans crossed the aisle and voted with Democrats to overturn the bill and revert the time period for legal abortions back to 15 weeks. In the House, Republicans Tim Dunn (representing Yuma) and Matt Gress, who represents parts of east Phoenix and Scottsdale, crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats. In the Senate, it was Shawnna Bolick, representing north Phoenix, and T.J. Shope, who represents parts of Pinal County, were the members who defied their party to vote with Democrats.

It is worth noting that every one of those four Republicans except T.J. Shope represent a swing district that could flip to Democrats, whereas Shope has burnished a reputation of being a common sense, pragmatic state senator, which likely explains his vote. Clearly, the desire to not lose a seat when Republicans only hold a 1 seat lead in both chambers illustrated the necessity of those crossover votes.

While Democrats comprised the vast majority of votes (including a signing of the bill by Governor Katie Hobbs) and there was an outward expression of relief, strategists were dealing with a negative outcome from this: their campaign strategies were now irrelevant. What was going to be the year of focusing on abortion as the issue of the election has turned into an election where Democrats don’t have an obvious clarion call.

Another potential casualty is the Right of Abortion proposition that will be on the ballot in November. Pro-abortion advocacy groups such as Planned Parenthood coalesced around this proposition in response to the 1864 bill, and it would codify the rights to have an abortion up to the point of fetal viability, a rather vague time period that is thought to be seven or eight months but whose definition makes it a likely target of legal challenges.

Presumably, part of the calculus was that when it comes to abortion, if voters had to choose between an archaic Civil War-era law and a rather liberal law, they would choose the liberal law. However, if the choice is now 15 weeks versus seven or eight months, that choice is much less certain now.

And Democrats nationally have had the wind at their backs over the past month or two, as Biden gains in the polls against Trump. But Arizona Democrats now need to figure out what the focus of their campaigns will be, because crossing their fingers and hoping for a blue wave election year won’t be a viable strategy.