USA  •  Women

Arizona latest state to ban abortion

19 April 2024

By Millie Collins

A woman’s right to choose to terminate their pregnancy lies at the heart of the liberation struggle. Not the Church, not the state, women must decide their fate!

According to the World Health Organisation a quarter of all pregnancies end in induced abortion; nearly half of those, 25 million end in unsafe abortions, endangering the lives of the expectant mothers. Between 5% and 13% of maternal deaths can be attributed to backstreet abortions, almost all of which are totally avoidable.

The social issues that make unplanned and possibly unwanted pregnancies inevitable include cramped or unaffordable accommodation, an abusive or controlling partner, lack of income, the cost of childcare, and inadequate medical and social services for children with special needs or disabilities.


On Tuesday 9 April the Supreme Court of Arizona potentially added to these figures by resurrecting a criminal law first enacted in 1864. This archaic law criminalises doctors and state medical providers who perform abortions that are not deemed ‘necessary’ to save the life of a pregnant person. The law carries a prison sentence of two to five years, even for pregnancies arising from incest or rape.

This law dates from a time when Arizona was just a territory, not a state, when slavery was still legal and women were denied the vote. Even after gaining statehood in 1912 the law was re-enacted and would be upheld for another 61 years, until the monumental 1973 Roe v Wade judgement, where the Supreme Court recognised the federal constitutional right to abortion.

In June 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade by a 5-4 majority, stripping all American women of their right to seek an abortion. This basic human right was already being eroded in many states, but this overturning gave reactionary forces far stronger powers to further restrict access to abortion.

A month later the then state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, persuaded a Tucson state judge to lift an injunction which was placed on the 1864 law shortly after Roe was introduced. While Brnovich was trying to gain support for his reactionary backslide, a decision by the Arizona High Court made abortions after 15 weeks illegal.

However, as this was only a decision of the High Court, without the same legal weight as a Supreme Court decision, the reintroduction of the 1864 law took precedence, banning abortion in the state in almost all circumstances.

Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who has delegated authority on abortion issues on behalf of the current Attorney General, has stated several times that she will not prosecute anyone under the ‘draconian’ law. She already has vetoed 185 Republican backed laws since she came into office, the most in Arizona state history.

Yet as this is the revival of an old statute she has no power to veto the decision. Republicans have blocked attempts by the Democrats to repeal the law at state and house level.

The national picture

Arizona will now join the 14 other states which impose a near total ban on abortion. Several other states have introduced gestational limits. Georgia and South Carolina have banned abortion after a ridiculously short period of six weeks, before most people even realise they’re pregnant; and Nebraska and North Carolina have banned all abortions after 12 weeks, which is almost as absurd.

Since the overturning of Roe v Wade, Republicans have waged an all-out assault against reproductive rights. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has recently signed into law a bill which makes abortion illegal after six weeks, shortening the window from 15 weeks. This comes after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that shortening the gestational window was constitutional in light of the overturning of Roe.

Historically the Democrats have been quiet on the abortion question at election time, considering it a potential vote loser. However, given the national outrage at attacks on abortion rights they are now much more vocal. They hope it will be a silver bullet for their chances at the next election.

But for anyone wondering how likely the Democrats are to follow through on their electoral promises, it is telling that they have failed to lead an effective national campaign to get a federal law passed since Roe v Wade was overturned. Joe Biden and co. have repeatedly failed to legislate on the issue.

However, there is no doubt that the spotlight on this issue can only hurt Republican electoral chances. Many prominent female Republicans have spoken out against the party on this issue. Even Donald Trump has warned that they have been ‘decimated’ over their hard line anti-abortion stance… although he did praise the overturning of Roe as a ‘miracle’.

Fight the attacks

After the demoralising defeat over Roe v Wade the women’s movement has been muted. However, it’s only through struggle that long-lasting abortion rights can be won. It’s clear that the Democrats cannot be trusted to enshrine abortion rights into federal law.

Ultimately working class women need to raise their own demands, separate from the careerist politicians using the issue to get elected. An alliance with such liberal forces is a road to half-measures and betrayal. American women need a working class movement that will fight for free and unrestricted access to abortion for all women regardless of gestational limits.

Internationally, the women’s and labour movements need to mobilise in support of our US sisters. The recent enshrining of abortion rights into federal law in France shows what can be done. We must fight to kick out the reactionary bodies and laws which undermine US claims of ‘democracy’. Women’s rights will never be secure until the system which births our inequality, capitalism, is overthrown.

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