How Arizona's abortion ban may affect the midterms

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(NEW YORK) — The Arizona court ruling on Friday upholding the state’s 1901 law banning abortions is rattling voters and elected officials.

The law provides no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal abnormalities and makes performing abortions punishable by two to five years in prison.

ABC News’ Libby Cathey, who is covering the midterm elections in Arizona and one of the embeds featured on the Hulu show Power Trip, spoke with “Start Here” Monday about how this ruling, and the battle for abortion rights since the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, will affect the races.

START HERE: So, first of all, can you just explain this ruling to me because we saw some states change their laws right after Roe fell, but this seemed to catch a lot of people way off guard.

LIBBY CATHEY: Yes. So, just to backtrack, there’s this law on the books in Arizona dating back to 1864 that bans all abortions and dishes out two to five years of jail time for those who help with one, except to save a mother’s life. And it feels like this law was really forgotten about. It dates back to before Arizona was even a state, but when the Supreme Court overturned Roe with the Dobbs decision in June, the Republican attorney general here, Mark Brnovich, said he will enforce this law. He will prosecute doctors who try to help women get an abortion.

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So Planned Parenthood sued him, saying this was unconstitutional, this violates privacy rights, and the court had put an injunction in place that providers had hoped would stay. That did not happen. So on Friday afternoon, a state judge in Arizona reinstated this territorial era, near-total ban on abortion. And the timing was big too, because on Saturday, a ban on abortions after 15 weeks was set to go into effect. That was passed earlier this year by the legislature, signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. And Ducey says this slightly less restrictive ban after 15 weeks is the law of the land.

START HERE: So it’s about to be less restrictive and all of a sudden it’s way, way, way more restrictive than anyone thought.

CATHEY: Right. So, and at the same time, the Republican attorney general, Mark Brnovich, is saying that this more restrictive law is the law of the land. So you can have two conflicting statements here. And this all just happened over the weekend, and I think there’s a lot of confusion about it.

START HERE: Yes. So as a result of this, what is the current rule in Arizona like? What can a pregnant woman do or not do? What can an abortion provider do or not do?

CATHEY: So the reality is abortion is illegal in the state of Arizona right now. If women want to get an abortion, they’ll need to go to California or go to another state to get one. And Planned Parenthood clinics are still open. They can help point women to other resources and provide contraception. But medical abortions, essentially, medication given to end a pregnancy before ten weeks, oftentimes before women even know they’re pregnant. All of those services have stopped.

I was at a press conference on Saturday where a doctor said all the chatter among her physicians, Facebook groups, [and] among doctors in Arizona is they feel their hands are tied. She used the words moral injury. And abortion rights supporters protesting outside the state capitol this weekend, they all say, point blank, women and girls will die because of this law. It will be like going back into a time when women resort to really desperate measures to end a pregnancy or women die themselves because of pregnancy complications, especially when doctors here can get two to five years of jail time for helping them.

START HERE: And just so I’m crystal clear, no exceptions at all?

CATHEY: There is no exception to rape or incest in either of those two abortion bans we just talked about. Both of them do have an exception to save the mother’s life. But again, because of that, the prosecution — and I think it scares a lot of people. So a lot of people will be having to go out the state or just not get an abortion at all. Democrats here say it’s one of the more restrictive laws in the country. And Arizona is a very red state, or it has been…but this has the potential to change a lot of things.

START HERE: And that’s what I’m wondering next, because I’m looking at Arizona’s House races right now where they have nine House seats. FiveThirtyEight’s forecast says at this moment, Republicans are expected to win five of those nine House seats like bare majority. Could something like this change the landscape of the midterms in a place like Arizona?

CATHEY: This has the potential to be a big game-changer. One Republican consultant told me that all the polling we’ve seen in Arizona that you’ve just mentioned here, it can be thrown out of the window. You have a Democratic candidate for attorney general here, Kris Mayes. She won’t prosecute any abortion ban violations. She thinks all these bans are unconstitutional. You have Democrat Katie Hobbs. She’s running for governor. She’s been trying to get abortion at the forefront of the race for governor against Kari Lake. Lake is proudly against abortion. And so this ruling may very well help them here in a few weeks when ballots go out. I mean, Republicans want to be talking about inflation and immigration and crime, but now they’re going to have to address this.

START HERE: Well, I don’t think I quite understood this until now, that, like, normally you’re voting because you think someone might affect abortion rights in your state. Say it really matters to you. Here you got the Democrats saying, “I will not enforce this law.” You got the Republicans saying, “I will enforce this law.” Hence, whoever votes for the attorney general or maybe the governor, you are deciding directly how abortion rights are about to be treated.

CATHEY: Exactly. And then that’s what Democrats and their supporters are at least saying. And that’s what they’re trying to drive home with voters. The Republicans say they’d enforce these bans. The Democrats say they wouldn’t. And to that, to that matter, to in the Senate race, you’ve got Blake Masters and Mark Kelly and you’ve got Democrats there saying that Blake Masters would support a total ban on abortion at a national level. So these are all issues that are being resurfaced because of this ruling. And while it’s not like Kansas, where there’s a literal initiative on the issue of abortion, Democrats and their supporters here say abortion is certainly on the ballot in Arizona.

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