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AZ Prosecutor Elections Turn Attention to Abortion Ban

Pro-choice advocates have been working hard to reverse the Arizona Supreme Court's decision to uphold a near-total abortion ban. Despite their efforts, the GOP-run legislature has not yet repealed the law. Pro-choice advocates have also defended the Democratic governor's order to block the enforcement of the ban from legal pushback. Advocates are close to placing a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to protect abortion. However, if these statewide solutions fail, they are considering Arizona's local prosecutors as a last resort, Bolts reports. This is because they fear that people may face criminal charges and prison terms for having abortions. “The least our county attorneys can do is commit that they would not prosecute those cases,” said state Rep. Analise Ortiz, a Democrat whose district covers parts of Maricopa County. “They absolutely should do that to bring relief to the millions of people who are scared by this decision.” Whether such a backstop materializes in Maricopa County — a giant jurisdiction home to more than 4 million residents in Phoenix and its surrounding areas — will come down to November’s prosecutor race.

Arizona has 14 counties that will elect their chief prosecutor this year, but only a few of these races are contested. The recent decision by the state Supreme Court to enforce Arizona's Civil War-era abortion ban emphasizes the importance of who occupies the local county attorney offices and their role in enforcing the law. If the November measure protecting the right to abortion fails or is struck down, or if a court overturns Gov. Katie Hobbs' order preventing prosecutions, the state’s 15 county attorneys would inherit the authority to go after abortion providers within their jurisdiction. Twelve out of the 15 current officeholders have signed a letter opposing the Hobbs' executive order from last year. However, many of them have also avoided questions regarding their stance on enforcing the 1864 ban. Some abortion rights advocates have cautioned that the emerging mix of policies, with some counties open to prosecuting abortion while others are not, is inadequate to safeguard abortion access even in regions with favorable prosecutors. They believe that what happens in one county is likely to impact the rest of the state, which is why their priorities are to amend the constitution and defend Hobbs’ statewide prohibition on enforcement.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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