Court abortion leak could rock Arizona races up and down the ballot

Ronald J. Hansen
Arizona Republic

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The leaked draft opinion that would strike down federal abortion rights gave new urgency to Arizona activists and politicians on an issue now likely to dominate the national conversation through the November election and beyond.

From high-profile perches in Washington, D.C., to local races in Maricopa County, the legal and political fallout of such a ruling spread like a wildfire in Arizona. 

Politico reported late Monday that at least five Supreme Court justices were crafting an opinion in February on a Mississippi case now before the court that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion across the country.

Arizona is among the states whose pre-Roe laws made abortion a crime. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 23 states have laws that would ban abortion without the legal rights under Roe.

Sinema in spotlight over filibuster debate

In a sign of how widely the issue reverberates, the high court's draft also instantly put U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and her support for preserving the legislative filibuster back in the national spotlight though that hurdle might not even matter.

Some Democrats immediately called for legislation to authorize federal abortion rights, but that would likely run into Republican resistance in the Senate and there is at least one Democratic member, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has voted against such a measure in the recent past.

Before Monday ended, Julie Gunnigle, the Democratic candidate for Maricopa County attorney, returned to a theme in her failed 2020 campaign: Without Roe, the prosecutor's office would decide how vigorously to enforce the state's ban on abortion in one of the nation's most-populous counties.

For her part, Sinema emphasized her longstanding support for abortion rights and sidestepped how the filibuster could also put those rights in jeopardy if Roe is struck down.

“A woman’s health care choices should be between her, her family, and her doctor,” Sinema said Tuesday in a tweet. “Overturning Roe v. Wade endangers the health and wellbeing of women in Arizona and across America.

“Protections in the Senate safeguarding against the erosion of women’s access to health care have been used half-a-dozen times in the past ten years, and are more important now than ever.”

It was a reference to efforts to restrict abortion rights that were thwarted by the filibuster.

Republican candidates respond

Arizona Republicans also face new pressure.

The GOP seems poised to make significant gains in November, but now must calibrate a message on a sweeping change in abortion rights, including the prospect of jailing women or doctors over the issue.

Those who most strongly support banning abortions could form the core of the Aug. 2 Republican primary electorate and primary candidates may be eager to push for more restrictive laws in a bid to impress conservative voters.

But in more competitive races, those primary winners will have to win over independent voters in November who are generally supportive of abortion rights. That is perhaps most evident in this year's race to challenge Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz.

Kelly faces no Democratic challenger and made clear he supports abortion rights. He called overturning Roe "an enormous step backwards for our country." 

The five men vying for the Republican nomination all oppose abortion rights and most wanted to punish the person responsible for leaking the court's draft opinion.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich spoke in vague terms about enforcing a ban if it happens. 

“If Roe v. Wade is eventually overturned, we will get to work in AZ and across the country to protect life,” he said in a written statement from his campaign. He cast the leaked document as an effort to intimidate and influence the justices. 

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Blake Masters, the venture capitalist whose campaign is supported by billionaire Peter Thiel, tweeted "bye bye Roe." He has in the past said states should not have the right to permit abortions.

Michael “Mick” McGuire, the retired adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard in the race, hit Kelly for his support of abortion rights. 

“If you want proof that Mark Kelly is a radical, he thinks terminating a human life is planning when to start a family,” he wrote.

Businessman Jim Lamon and Arizona Corporation Commissioner Justin Olson applauded an end to Roe.

The leak comes too late to impact who will run for office in Arizona this election cycle, but it came just as the primary campaigns are heating up.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the frontrunner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, reacted with a profane tweet.

(Expletive) "the patriarchy. — KH," she wrote in a tweet that linked to a website to contribute to her campaign.

Kari Lake, a Republican seeking her party's nomination responded with "Life Wins" and  a depiction of hands in prayer. She responded to Hobbs' tweet by saying Hobbs had "spent a career sowing division and spreading partisan hate."

Karrin Taylor Robson, a Republican Lake rival, said abortion is a state issue and vowed to work with the Legislature "to guarantee the right to life for the unborn." She didn't specify what enforcement provisions she favors to accomplish that. 

Former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, another GOP candidate for governor, said the draft suggests the court "will save countless lives."  

The ruling, however far reaching, will put the issue of enforcing abortion prohibitions squarely into the race for county attorney.

Gunnigle raised the issue of enforcing abortion bans in 2020 in a race perhaps more defined by public concern over civil unrest after the murder of George Floyd and calls to "defund the police."

Gunnigle wrote Monday that the leak suggests the prosecutor will have the power to charge people over their health care decisions.

"Our government does not belong in these intimate spaces. This draft opinion doesn't exist in a judicial vacuum. It threatens the lives of millions of Americans and will cause untold harm in our community. It immediately criminalizes Arizonans securing their own health," she wrote.

"I have committed to upholding the rights of all people in our community and I firmly believe no one should be criminalized for making a decision about their body. We cannot face a further erosion of rights here or anywhere in our nation."

By contrast, Rachel Mitchell, the appointed county attorney until voters select a permanent replacement in November, made no public comment about the draft ruling that could impact her official duties.

Mitchell, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the office, is uniquely tied to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was among those supportive of striking down the Roe decision in the leaked draft.

Working on behalf of Republican senators, Mitchell questioned Kavanaugh and the woman who accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers during Kavanaugh's contentious 2018 confirmation hearing.   

State candidates weigh in

Many of those in Congress, or angling to be, quickly marked their views, which fell entirely along partisan lines.

Two incumbents in what are expected to be competitive races — Rep. Tom O'Halleran, D-Ariz., and David Schweikert, R-Ariz. — took different approaches to the issue.

O'Halleran, who has historically supported abortion rights, issued a statement Tuesday. Schweikert, who has historically opposed abortion rights, made no public comments.

O’Halleran said he believes “health care decisions should lie solely between a woman and her doctor.”

“If this draft opinion proves true, it will be a mammoth, painful set-back for women, families, and our country as whole,” he said. “We cannot regress on precedent that has endured nearly half a century.”

Businessman Eli Crane, who hopes to win the Republican nomination to challenge O'Halleran, did not make any public statements about the draft opinion.

Related coverage:Arizona Republican candidates clash in 2nd Congressional District debate

State Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, who is running in the same district, responded to Hobbs' pointed remark by calling her a "toxic feminist, racist, opportunist, and pro infanticide all wrapped in one person." He has sought legislation that would require Arizona prosecutors to charge women getting an abortion and their doctors with homicide.

Ron Watkins, the man many suspect is behind the QAnon conspiracy theory, said only, "Make no mistake: Abortion is murder."

Businessman Elijah Norton, who is challenging Schweikert for the Republican nomination, affirmed his opposition to abortion rights, noting in a statement the birth of his brother, whom doctors feared would have severe disabilities but was born without such challenges and became a lawyer.

"Had my mother listened to the doctors and other medical professionals, my brother wouldn’t be alive today," Norton said in a statement.

Josh Barnett, another Schweikert opponent, unleashed a barrage of characteristically conspiratorial and combative tweets. 

In one, he said, "They leaked Roe v Wade to hide 2000 Mules info," referring to a conspiracy theory movie outlining another claim of a stolen election in 2020. Later, he responded to Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams who outlined her opposition to the court's apparent intent to overturn Roe.

"As a human, I’m enraged that people think killing babies is ok," Barnett wrote.

Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., quickly tweeted his opposition to the draft opinion.

"It’s outrageous the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn the right to an abortion. I’ll always stand up for a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, and that includes the choice to have an abortion," he wrote.

Neither Kelly Cooper nor Tanya Wheeless, who are among the Republicans hoping to challenge Stanton, commented on Twitter or their campaign websites by midday Tuesday. Cooper explicitly said he opposes abortion rights without referencing the draft opinion.

Republican Juan Ciscomani, who is running for the open seat in southeastern Arizona, made no comment about the leak, but notes his opposition to abortion rights on his website.

Former state Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the same race, called the proposed opinion "outrageous! (Supreme Court Justice Samuel ) Alito's draft triggers AZ law sending doctors to jail. Women will be forced to go forward with unwanted pregnancies and many will die from back alley abortions. The Trump-packed S.Ct. may let this happen, but I won't. Congress must act."

State Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, who is challenging Engel, said "The decision to overturn safe and legal abortion is wrong and dangerous. Making abortions illegal will not stop them it will only make them unsafe."

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., cast the draft as a warning of worse rulings to come.

"While we don’t know what the Court’s final opinion will be, we do know that women have had the right to control their own reproductive choices for almost 50 years. Republicans will strip those rights away if given the chance. Extremism is their new normal," he said in a tweet.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., would welcome such a ruling from the Supreme Court, but wanted punishment for the person responsible for the leak.

“What this leak does though it undermines the collegiality and trust within the body itself, the Supreme Court itself,” he said in an appearance on Newsmax. “But more than that, I believe this was done by a leftist who was working in the Supreme Court who wanted to change the outcome here. They were actively trying to foment and incite rioting and civil disorder to put pressure on and intimidate these justices.”

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., called for an investigation of the leak and hopes the impending ruling ends Roe.

“Nothing in the Constitution provided any support for this unhinged decision that has led to over 60 million American babies being murdered," he said in a statement. “If Roe is overruled it will be a first step for the Supreme Court to clean up its legacy and get back to interpreting laws, not creating laws."

Republic reporters Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Tara Kavaler contributed to this article.

Reach the reporter Ronald J. Hansen at or 602-444-4493. Follow him on Twitter @ronaldjhansen.

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