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Ariz. attorney general wants California to be ‘safe haven’ for abortion providers after state Supreme Court ruling


PHOENIX — Arizona’s attorney general said she will do all she can to mitigate the impacts of the Civil War-era abortion ban that the state’s Supreme Court ruled was enforceable this week. 

Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat, told NBC News in an in-person interview on Thursday that her office is pursuing refusing to prosecute abortion providers and patients and to help Arizona doctors obtain licenses in other states after the court decided in favor of the 1864 near-total abortion ban Tuesday.

“I totally understand the fear that doctors, pharmacists and nurses are having right now in the face of the knowledge that we are barreling toward the potential implementation of this 1864 ban,” Mayes said. “That’s why I’m working with other states on avenues for potentially having them go to those states to practice medicine in the near term. One of my visions is that potentially we could have a safe haven in California for our doctors, nurses and abortion providers.”

The 1864 Arizona law outlawed abortion from the moment of conception, with an exception to save the woman’s life. It made abortion a felony punishable by two to five years in prison for anyone who performed an abortion or helped a person obtain one. Tuesday’s decision effectively undoes a lower court’s ruling that a recent 15-week ban superseded the law. 

The state Supreme Court said Tuesday it would put its decision on hold for 14 days so a lower court can consider “additional constitutional challenges.” Reproductive rights advocates can appeal the ruling in the two-week window. Meanwhile, a separate, ongoing suit would allow abortion providers to continue providing services through the 15th week of pregnancy until the end of May.

Shortly after the ruling, Mayes declared in a statement, “As long as I am Attorney General, no woman or doctor will be prosecuted under this draconian law in this state.”

She said Thursday: “I was elected for this moment. This is about freedom and our ability to control our own bodies. And so we will do everything that it takes to accomplish that.”

Abortion providers like Dr. Ronald Yunis, of Acacia’s Women Center in Phoenix, said that while he appreciates Mayes’ promise, it may mean little for doctors like him who wouldn’t be legally allowed to treat patients without fear of arrest. “It’s still against the law,” Yunis pointed out. “If it’s illegal, I cannot” perform abortions. 

Asked about those concerns Thursday, Mayes said her office is going to use the 45 days to fight the ban so it is never implemented. She said she will work with Arizona providers to get them licensed to provide care in California temporarily until voters can weigh in on a ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state’s constitution this fall.

“I understand a doctor saying, ‘I can’t do this, I’ve got to provide for my family, I don’t want to lose my license, I don’t want to go to prison for two to five years,’” Mayes acknowledged. “My message to them is I’m going to do everything I can to fight for you as attorney general of Arizona.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has said that his state “remains ready to help Arizonans access reproductive health care.” In a statement from his office, spokesman Brandon Richards said that California has been preparing for an influx of patients needing reproductive health care since before Roe v Wade was overturned.

“We are also working in close coordination with the Arizona Governor’s office to ensure Arizonans know that California has their back and have resources available should they seek care in our state,” the statement reads.

Tuesday’s ruling is the latest setback for abortion rights since the Supreme Court, in 2022, overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion. Ahead of the decision, about half the states indicated they would limit abortion access if Roe v. Wade was struck down. Since then, nearly two dozen have banned abortions or severely restricted access, kicking off a wave of legal challenges in the states. Arizona reproductive rights groups and advocates have protested across the state since the ruling as abortion providers wrestle with how to move forward.





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