The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Arizona’s Old Abortion Law Raised from the Dead

Apr 22, 2024

The Arizona Supreme Court upheld an old, 1864 law banning all abortions. Under this law, abortion providers could receive two to five years in prison unless the abortion is necessary to save the life of the woman. This law stands to go in effect June 8th unless something stops it. The state legislature already failed. This will be a ballot issue. But women would still have to wait at least six months. Waiting is not an option for pregnant women wanting an abortion.

This law, and other laws like it in other states, are being used against women. The agenda of the extreme right is to pretend that these laws prove that everyone was completely against abortion, in all cases, from the moment of conception. This was not true in the 1860s just like it is not true today. One hundred sixty years ago was a different time period. It is important to understand the historical context of this law that is now infiltrating 2024.

In the 1860s Arizona was a new territory on the frontier, not even a state yet. Its growth was driven by miners who were seeking fortunes in a burgeoning gold and silver industry, with settlers increasingly encroaching on Native American tribal lands. Women were scarce on frontier lands. In addition, some women were using abortion to delay childbirth and limit family size. This was seen by some men as a shirking of their obligations.

During this same time period there was also a movement by doctors to professionalize abortion services. Abortion was a money-making business. And doctors were competing with midwives and others who were untrained but making big bucks performing abortions.

Very few people were ever prosecuted under the Arizona law or similar ones in other states. At that time, first trimester abortions were widespread, and widely accepted by the population. Scientists had not yet developed methods to detect pregnancy during the first few months of gestation. As a result, abortions before “quickening,” when a fetus’s first movements are detected, usually around the fourth or fifth month of gestation, were not considered a crime.

There was no national abortion debate to speak of. Religion wasn’t yet a major factor in Americans’ views on abortion the way it is today. Reading this 1864 law with 2024 eyes is just wrong. It has been purposefully taken out of historical context to attack women.