Abortions in Arizona: State can enforce 1864 law, supreme court rules

Arizona can soon enforce a long-dormant law criminalizing all abortions except when a mother’s life is at stake, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, opening the door to prosecuting doctors who perform the procedures.

Under the decision, a long-dormant law that predates Arizona’s statehood would take effect. It provides no exceptions for rape or incest, but allows abortions if a mother’s life is in danger. Enforcement can take effect in 14 days.


Arizona abortion law: What to know as near-total ban from 1864 is restored by state supreme court

A new ruling from the Arizona Supreme Court means that abortion will soon be mostly banned in Arizona as a result of a 19th century law. Here's what to know about the ruling, and what could happen in the future that can change the situation once again.

The ruling suggests doctors can be prosecuted for performing the procedure, but the majority ruling doesn’t explicitly say that. The 1864 law carries a sentence of two to five years in prison for doctors or anyone else who assists in an abortion.

Arizona’s high court ruling reviewed a 2022 decision by the state Court of Appeals that said doctors couldn’t be charged for performing the procedure in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Some state politicians speak out against ruling

State Sen. Eva Burch (D-District 9), who dramatically announced on the Senate floor last month that her pregnancy wasn’t viable and she was getting an abortion, criticized GOP lawmakers who expressed support for the ban.

"We know that every single Republican in the Arizona House and Senate supported this territorial total ban on abortion — they signed an amicus brief affirming that very fact," said Burch. "This moment must not slow us down."

Burch noted that Arizonans will be able to vote this fall on a ballot measure allowing the right to abortion, adding that "the right for reproductive rights is not over in Arizona."

Cathi Herrod with the Center for Arizona Policy, however, defended the court's decision. On their website, the CAP describes itself as an organization with a mission of "promoting and defending the foundational values of life, marriage & family, and religious freedom."

"The Arizona Supreme Court today upheld the rule of law," said Herrod. "We are thrilled with today's ruling. It's the correct legal ruling, and it's the correct moral ruling."

Herrod also said lawsuits are likely over Governor Hobbs' executive order that prevents county attorneys from prosecuting abortion cases.

"The Attorney General and the County Attorneys are legally obligated to enforce laws passed by the Arizona Legislature and signed by the Governor," Herrod said. "To not to do is a dereliction of their duties."

What's the state of abortion in the United States currently?

Currently, 14 states are enforcing bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Two states ban the procedure once cardiac activity can be detected, which is about six weeks into pregnancy and often before women realize they’re pregnant.

Nearly every ban has been challenged with a lawsuit. Courts have blocked enforcing some restrictions, including bans throughout pregnancy in Utah and Wyoming.

AZ Supreme Court ruling on abortion