On Tuesday, states across the country voted in key primary elections, and the story of the night quickly became Kansas: The supposedly deep-red state had voted overwhelmingly to protect abortion rights. But, over in Arizona, even though abortion wasn’t directly on the ballot—it was in another way.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs won the Democratic nomination for governor within days of sharing her personal story about experiencing a miscarriage that required her to have a common abortion procedure. This procedure could notably be a crime under a 1901 pre-Roe v. Wade abortion ban that Attorney General Mark Brnovich is currently suing to enforce now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade.
“I’m mad as hell. I am the mother of two beautiful children. But those were not my only pregnancies,” Hobbs wrote in a recent op-ed in the Daily Beast. “Like many other women, I suffered miscarriages. During one of my pregnancies, the doctors told me that for my health they would need to perform a procedure to remove the pregnancy tissue.” Hobbs notes that this was “the same procedure that’s commonly used for abortions.”
“From personal experience, I can say that losing a pregnancy is already hard enough. I can’t imagine what that situation would have been like had I been told that the best medical decision for my health is also one that would be considered criminal and would land my doctor in prison.”
As of 1977, the state’s legislature reenacted the pre-Roe, total abortion ban that recognizes fetal personhood—meaning it could criminalize miscarriage, self-managed abortion, IVF, and any behaviors that could supposedly put a fetus at risk. The legislature also confirmed that this ban remains on the books when it passed a currently active 15-week ban in March. The 15-week ban effectively prohibits the safest, most common form of abortion care in the second trimester, which is often used for unviable pregnancies and miscarriages.
Overall, there’s a pervading sense of confusion about where abortion rights stand in Arizona right now. Last month, a federal judge blocked Arizona’s pre-Roe ban primarily because of its ambiguity about when personhood begins and what charges abortion providers would face. But Brnovich has declared he intends to enforce it anyway—despite how Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has said the 15-week ban takes precedence over the pre-Roe ban.
We’re all confused, but simply put, Hobbs is right: The procedure she needed after her miscarriage “would be considered criminal” under the law Brnovich is trying to enforce. Criminalization of pregnancy outcomes has always happened even before Roe was overturned: Criminal charges for pregnancy loss and self-managed abortion literally tripled between the periods of 1973 to 2005 and 2006 to 2020. And as recent as April, a Texas woman was jailed and charged with homicide for allegedly self-managing an abortion. Other pregnant people, who were disproportionately people of color, faced criminal charges and even prison time for alleged substance use or other behaviors believed to have led to a miscarriage. Fetal personhood laws like Arizona’s are especially dangerous by rendering the pregnant person’s rights secondary to a fetus: A pregnant woman who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and miscarried after a car accident was convicted of manslaughter in 2009. Another pregnant woman who miscarried after being shot in the stomach was also charged with manslaughter in 2019.
The Republican primary for governor has yet to be called, though the front-runners appear to be Karrin Taylor Robson and Trump-endorsed Kari Lake —both have practically been tripping over each other to call for abortion to be totally outlawed. And if they take their cues from the bans sweeping the country since the overturning of Roe, a total abortion ban in Arizona likely wouldn’t include an exception for rape.
In Hobbs’ op ed, she recalls being a social worker and running “one of the largest domestic violence shelters in the country” prior to running for office, serving in Arizona’s legislature, and eventually becoming secretary of state—while former President Trump pushed the Big Lie and subjected Hobbs and other women secretaries of state to heightened violent threats. While working with domestic violence victims, Hobbs said she “saw firsthand the devastating effects that a dangerous, traumatizing, or unplanned pregnancy can have on a woman and her family,” and “the vicious cycle that poverty and lack of access to reproductive health care create.”
“Many women I worked with were raped, forced to carry a pregnancy, forced to get an abortion, had their birth control sabotaged by their partner, or had their pregnancy jeopardized by abuse their partner inflicted,” Hobbs wrote. “These women didn’t have control of their reproductive health-care decisions, and they suffered physically, mentally, and emotionally.”
More and more elected officials and candidates are sharing their abortion stories, from lawmakers like Reps. Cori Bush and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, to Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who shared his and his partner’s abortion story in 2020. And now, Hobbs—a woman who could be the next governor of Arizona—is running in a state with abortion laws that regard patients like her as criminals. Her election exemplifies what’s at stake for Arizonans as well as women and pregnant people across the country in our post-Roe world.