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Arizona attorney general says she won't enforce a 164-year-old abortion law

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We go to Arizona, where a Civil War era ban on almost all abortions will soon be the law after a ruling this week by the state's Supreme Court. Arizona justices revived an 1864 law barring all abortions except in cases where the mother's life is at risk. It would replace the previous state law that allowed abortion through 15 weeks of pregnancy, and there would be no exceptions for rape or incest. It's the latest state ban on abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade nearly two years ago, and the state's attorney general says she will not enforce it. Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes is here with me now. Good morning.

KRIS MAYES: Good morning.

FADEL: So you say you're not going to enforce this law. Why?

MAYES: Well, for a number of reasons, we won't be enforcing this law. First and foremost, it is unconstitutional. It violates our state's right to privacy, which is expressly written into our Constitution. Secondly, you know, this isn't over by a long shot. We still have an opportunity over the next 60 days to try to get this terrible decision reversed. It doesn't take effect immediately. So we have anywhere from 45 to 60 days to try to stop this. This thing was passed or written when Arizona wasn't even a state, women couldn't vote and the Civil War was still raging.

FADEL: But your job, ultimately, is to enforce law. So if it does take effect in 45 to 60 days, do you risk your elected position by choosing not to enforce it?

MAYES: No. Definitely not. Look, there are laws on the books in Arizona and in every state that are not enforced. I mean, Arizona has an adultery law, a bigamy law. Those laws are not enforced. And it's my job to make sure that the resources of my office are properly utilized and spent. And I also have supervisory authority over the state's 15 county attorneys. And I've made it clear that if any of them attempts to prosecute a doctor or a nurse, a medical professional or a woman under this insane, egregious 1864 abortion ban, that I will step in and I will stop them, or at least attempt to stop them.

FADEL: You said that this was a seismic decision. I think this changes everything. When you say this changes everything, what does it change?

MAYES: Well, obviously it changes everything in a terrible way for Arizona women and families. But from a political standpoint, this is an absolute earthquake. This is a 8.0 on the Richter scale. You know, the Republicans have no idea what is coming at them in November. You know, the people of Arizona - as they should through the democratic process - will make it clear that they don't want to be subjected to an 1864 abortion ban. And so I think what that means is that the ballot initiative that we have is likely, almost certainly, I believe, to pass.

FADEL: And that's a ballot initiative come November that would enshrine the right to abortion in the Constitution.

MAYES: Exactly.

FADEL: Now, we've seen some Republicans, though, criticizing this ruling, saying it went too far, that it's too extreme - Republican lawmaker David Cook from Arizona saying it needs to be changed - even criticized by Kari Lake, who ran for Arizona governor on an anti-abortion platform. And what do you make of these criticisms? Is this a shift?

MAYES: I think what you hear in the voices of those Republicans is fear. And it's fear of the fact that the people of Arizona are going to resoundingly reject this in the form of their votes in November. And, you know, I appreciate the fact that there are a few Republicans who are willing to say that, but they certainly should have and could have said that a long time ago. They could have repealed this at any time over the past decades, I suppose. And they certainly could have repealed it in the last year, but they chose not to. So what I say to them is, a little too little and a little too late.

FADEL: Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, thank you for joining us.

MAYES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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