NEW YORK – Heads of the Arizona and Florida Catholic Conferences applauded the steps taken by each state’s legislature this week to advance legislation banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision expected by summer.
In Arizona, the bill was passed Feb. 15 by the Senate and now moves to the House. In Florida, the bill was passed by the House Feb. 17 and now moves to the Senate. Both bills mirror the Mississippi legislation at the center of the Dobbs case, and both are expected to pass the state legislatures and garner signatures from the governors.
“It’s encouraging,” Michael Sheedy, the executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference told Crux. “We support shrinking that window in which abortions can be obtained in Florida, and we think this is certainly a good step that goes beyond what we thought might have been possible before Dobbs v. Jackson.”
Ronald Johnson, the executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, said the significance of the move in Arizona is timing. This vote positions the Arizona legislature to pass the bill before the end of the state’s legislative session on June 30, at which point the bill will go into effect 90 days later on Sept. 28 contingent upon the Dobbs ruling.
“Most people expect a 15-week ban to be upheld, and then we’ll be in a good spot that this bill will take effect a little bit after the Supreme Court rules,” Johnson said. “Otherwise, we would have to wait until next year to start it and it probably wouldn’t become effective until Fall 2023.”
Conversely, the timing was a chief complaint of Arizona senators opposed to the bill.
“If we’re waiting to see what the Supreme Court does, let’s wait to see what the Supreme Court actually does before we start trying to change these laws,” Democratic Arizona Sen. Martin Quezada said. “Otherwise, you’re spinning our wheels right now.”
No matter if the Arizona and Florida bills are passed, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision will largely dictate what goes into effect, and in both Arizona and Florida there are multiple possibilities.
A ruling against Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban would stifle the Arizona and Florida laws.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, the question will be whether or not they overturned Roe v. Wade – the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion access across the United States. If Roe is overturned, abortion law goes back to states.
Arizona is one of nine states – alongside Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin – that have pre-Roe laws banning abortion still on the books that would go back into effect if Roe is overturned.
“If Roe is overturned, this [15-week ban] is going to be set aside and we’ll let the pre-existing statute go into effect. That’s the way this is written,” Johnson said.
No such statute exists in Florida, thus if Roe is overturned, nothing more than the 15-week ban would go into effect. However, Sheedy noted that if that’s the case he anticipates “more action in the legislature in a special session or subsequent session to further limit the harm of abortion.”
The Supreme Court could also uphold the Mississippi law and not rule on Roe v. Wade, in which case the bills in Arizona and Florida would go into effect as is. Florida is in a unique situation, however, where opponents of the bill could challenge it based on a Florida Supreme Court decision in the 1980’s that gave a broader right to abortion based on the state’s privacy laws.
The West Virginia House of Delegates also advanced a bill on Feb. 15 that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The bill now moves to the state Senate and then to Gov. Jim Justice, who would be expected to sign.
If the Supreme Court sides with Mississippi at least 20 states are expected to follow suit with abortion restrictions. Other states, meanwhile, have signaled the opposite. New Jersey is the latest of at least a dozen states to enshrine abortion rights in law. New York and California have made clear their intentions to be abortion sanctuary states for women from states that restrict abortion access.
With Arizona bordering California, Johnson said it’s important for the Catholic Church to do “the best that we can to reach out compassionately to pregnant women, to offer them help.”
“It’s through reaching hearts and minds and in particular, the women who are in need because most of them don’t want an abortion and I think helping them in other ways is the key to success,” Johnson said. “I like to tell people that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, the work doesn’t end here. In many ways, it’s just beginning.”
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