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This Time, It's Arizona

Susan Estrich on

Just days after Donald Trump tried to defang the abortion issue, it came roaring back in the form of an Arizona law, passed before women could vote, banning all abortions. Far from resolving the issue, the Supreme Court's decision to overrule Roe v. Wade has thrust abortion -- and the courts -- in the thick of what the White House termed the "chaos and confusion" playing out nationally. The Arizona law, passed before Arizona joined the Union and dormant for decades, "is now enforceable," the court ruled by a 4-2 vote. In fact, it's not enforceable quite yet: The court stayed enforcement for 14 days and allowed another 45 days for a lower court to determine in the first instance its constitutionality.

The law is, as President Joe Biden was quick to say, among the most extreme in the country. Replacing the current Arizona law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which is pre-viability, the law would ban all abortions from the moment of conception with no exception for rape or incest. The law provides for criminal penalties including fines and prison terms for doctors who violate it.

And Trump? He had nothing to say. In Arizona, Democrats, campaigning on the abortion issue, managed to win races for governor and attorney general two years ago in the midterms and made clear that they plan to make it an issue in November. They had already been moving to enact a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights when this decision came down. In this year's Senate race, which is hotly contested, Kari Lake, the Republican, like Trump, has attempted to evade the issue by backing off from her support of a federal ban, while her opponent, Ruben Gallego, has doubled down. Two years ago, Lake called the Civil War-era ban a "great law." Said Gallegos, "Yet again, extremist politicians like Kari Lake are forcing themselves into doctors' offices and ripping away the right for women to make their own health care decisions," and that he would do "whatever it takes to protect abortion rights at the federal level."

Beware what you wish for. When I started working in national politics, Democrats were almost uniformly afraid of the abortion issue. The most pro-choice among them always began their statements affirming that they were "personally opposed to abortion" but supported Roe v. Wade "as the law of the land." Working with feminist leaders Gloria Steinem, Phyllis Segal and the late Rep. Bella Abzug, the Kennedy campaign went to the floor of the Democratic Convention -- against the opposition of then president and nominee Jimmy Carter -- to add a plank on reproductive freedom to the Democratic platform in 1980. It was controversial; the fear of the power of the anti-abortion movement was that great.

 

For years, Democratic candidates warned that we were one vote (on the Supreme Court) away from losing Roe v. Wade, but to no avail: Abortion was more of a voting issue for the vocal and intense anti-abortion minority than for the majority that supported Roe but took it for granted. After years of effort, the anti-choice minority, thanks to Trump, finally won -- and awakened a somnolent majority. Abortion has, since the Dobbs decision, been bringing voters to the polls in record numbers. Arizona now joins Florida as a battleground state where the success of the anti-abortion movement may cost their candidates dearly. Trump's efforts to avoid the issue run counter to the continued determination of the anti-abortion movement to use the courts to revive laws like Arizona's across the country and to otherwise further restrict reproductive freedom, even as access to medicated abortion remains teetering in the balance at the Supreme Court.

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To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


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