Activists, politicians decry near-total abortion ban in Arizona state Capitol protest

Jasmine Held-Hernandez wipes away a tear as she listens to stories from fellow abortion rights demonstrators gathered at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Sept. 24, 2022.

About 100 protesters gathered at the Arizona state Capitol on Saturday evening and protested the near-total abortion ban that a Pima County judge sided with a day earlier.

The ban stems from a law, known as ARS 13-3603, that was adopted in 1864, before Arizona became a state. It mandates two to five years of prison time for anyone who provides abortion in almost every instance including rape or incest, with an exception to save the life of the mother.

People arrived by 6 p.m. to the State Capitol to protest the ruling, citing Gov. Doug Ducey's support for a 15-week abortion ban.

"We're extremely surprised and shocked. Essentially, after Roe v. Wade was overturned the Arizona courts needed to find out if that old law was still enforceable," activist Elsa Landeros said. "And some of the activists and the nonprofits that were following the case closely, agree that this is just the absolute worst possible outcome that could have happened."

The protest also featured speeches from pro-choice politicians including state Senator Christine Marsh and U.S. House candidate Javier Ramos. Marsh decried the ruling as creating a new reality of "government-mandated pregnancy," while Ramos proclaimed that his top goal if elected, would be to codify Roe v. Wade through federal law.

Thomas Duggar, a candidate for state Senate, also condemned the ruling and spoke with protesters about potential options for Senate Democrats. While he admitted that Democrats wouldn't be able to overturn an abortion ban unless they took control of all three branches of government after the midterms, he vowed to take alternative action if they don't.

"What I can do is I can work with Republicans on those things. Let's improve sex education. Help these babies come to term. Help the mothers, give them funding, give them paid leave. You know, I mean, just think about it. That's what I can do. And I can convince them by guilting the heck out of them, right? I mean, put your money where your mouth is," Duggar said.

Many of the protesters said that they believed the ruling will encourage more people, especially women, to vote for pro-choice Democrats in the midterm elections.

"Totally is a game changer. Totally," protester Beth Ballman said. "There are so many women who are fired about this."

Landeros, an organizer with Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom and one of the primary organizers of the rally, said that though the pre-statehood law includes an exception to save the life of the patient, it is effectively a total ban.

“Abortion providers have shared with us that this is a total ban, because most OB-GYNs do not perform abortions,” she said. Even in a situation where the patient’s life is at risk, they won’t be able to be transported to an abortion provider in time to save their life, she said.

“The effects of this ban are far more overreaching more than just about family planning, even though the privacy of family planning should be enough,” Landeros said. “But the implications of this is that people will die.”

'People in Arizona have just lost bodily autonomy': Abortion providers enraged by ruling

When speakers began at 5:45 p.m., the emphasis was on getting people out to vote in the November 8 election — especially for attorney general candidate Kristin Mayes, gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs, and Maricopa County attorney candidate Julie Gunnigle.

Celina Washburn, an organizer with Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom, said that there are plans in the works for another constitutional amendment ballot initiative for 2024. She encouraged voters to vote no this November for three propositions — Prop 128, 129, and 132 — which she said would “create barriers for us to qualify and pass initiatives.”

Candidates for various offices across the state spoke to the crowd. Arizona state Sen. Christine Marsh, who represents Legislative District 28, said that she used to be anti-abortion until she became a foster mother.

“I ended up with an 11-year-old who had been raped and got pregnant,” she said. “At that moment, my entire mentality flipped. And we are in a reality now where those young girls are absolutely unprotected.”

Javier Garcia Ramos said he is the only pro-choice candidate for U.S. House District 5, where he is running against Republican incumbent Andy Biggs.

A woman named Brianna, who chose not to share her last name, addressed the crowd and shared her experience with an abortion that saved her life. Three years ago, she had an unplanned, ectopic pregnancy, she said.

“It was definitely not planned to have to make a choice, but I’m damn grateful that I got one,” she said. But she said that yesterday’s ruling puts her ability to be a mother at risk.

“I’m at a 50% risk to have it happen again,” she said. “God forbid, my birth control fails, and I end up in that OR again, this time I don’t get a choice. My kids don’t get a mother anymore. I guarantee that no pro-lifer is gonna pull my kids out of foster care to care for them.”

Jasmine Held-Hernandez, a demonstrator at the rally, said that the rally participants were not necessarily the ones who would be affected the most by the ruling.

“Myself, and I’m sure many of the people that are here, are privileged enough where we can travel,” Held-Hernandez said. “I think this mainly affects minority communities, people of color, lower socioeconomic communities, who don’t know their options, who can’t afford to get an abortion. This is about keeping poor people poor, and that’s why I’m speaking out.”

Cari King, an organizer with an activist group called Socialist Femmes Trans Inclusive United (STFU) that formed after Roe v. Wade was overturned, expressed surprise at yesterday’s ruling and disappointment with the rally’s turnout.

“I didn’t think it was gonna go that far,” she said. “I just hope people keep talking about it. Even though the group was small today, it was a little disheartening, so I just hope people don’t forget or give up.”

Reach the reporter Jeremy Yurow at

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Protesters decry abortion ban at the Arizona state Capitol