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In Arizona, political candidates walk a fine line on abortion rights

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Like other Republicans up and down the ballot in Arizona, U.S. Senate hopeful Kari Lake is walking a fine line on the issue of abortion - how to stress her opposition to abortion rights without embracing a near-total ban on the procedure in Arizona law. Ben Giles from member station KJZZ in Arizona reports.

BEN GILES, BYLINE: In a five-minute campaign video released two days after the Arizona Supreme Court upheld an abortion ban dating back to the 1860s, Lake doesn't exactly say she's against the law, but she does acknowledge the political reality.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARI LAKE: This total ban on abortion that the Arizona Supreme Court just ruled on is out of line with where the people of this state are. The issue...

GILES: On this issue, like others, Lake aligns herself with former President Donald Trump. Both now say there must be exceptions in cases of rape or incest, something the near-total ban in Arizona lacks. That law bans abortions except in cases where a pregnant person's life is at risk.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAKE: I agree with President Trump. We must have exceptions for rape, incest and the life of a mother. We as American people don't agree on everything all of the time. But if you look at where the population is on this, a full ban on abortion is not where the people are.

GILES: Lake's messaging echoes gentler points on abortion she's made since declaring her candidacy for U.S. Senate last year. She says pregnant women deserve choices. But Lake, who touts herself as the only mom in the Senate race, makes crystal clear what choice she wants women to make.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAKE: I want to make sure that every woman who finds herself pregnant has more choices so that she can make that choice that I made.

GILES: Trump, as well as Lake, have urged Arizona lawmakers to remedy the Supreme Court's ruling. Last week at Mar-a-Lago, the former president expressed confidence that would soon happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: And a judge made a ruling, but that's going to be changed by government. They're going to be changing that. I disagree with that.

GILES: Lake's opponent, Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego, says it's too little, too late from the likes of Trump and Lake.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUBEN GALLEGO: Voters know that you are lying, Kari, and they're not going to trust you. It doesn't matter how many well-produced videos you have.

GILES: Democrats have plenty of receipts when it comes to Lake's past praise of the near-total abortion ban. She frequently lauded the law while campaigning for governor of Arizona in 2022. Lake declined an interview following the court ruling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GALLEGO: Let's be clear. This is exactly what Kari Lake wanted. She did call this a great law. She not only called it a great law. She cited it by statute. So let's not be fooled. Don't let Kari Lake fool you.

GILES: And it's unclear if Republican state lawmakers, who control both the Arizona House and Senate, will heed Lake and Trump's calls for repeal. There are some in Arizona working to ensure they don't. Cathi Herrod runs the Center for Arizona Policy, an influential anti-abortion rights group. In an interview with NPR, she expressed disappointment in how some conservatives have responded to the Arizona abortion ruling. She encourages them, she says...

CATHI HERROD: To not be fearful and to clearly articulate why the pro-life position is their position.

GILES: Herrod said the ruling doesn't change the aims and goals of her movement.

HERROD: And it's unfortunate that some are making political decisions as opposed to decisions based on, should government be protecting life or not?

GILES: When asked what she meant by candidates like Trump and Lake making political decisions, Herrod was cautious not to directly criticize either GOP candidate.

HERROD: The statements that I've seen are not talking about the real issue - protecting the lives of vulnerable unborn children and their mothers. And so, I mean, I'm just going to leave it at that.

GILES: Asked whether Lake and Trump's opposition to Arizona's near-total abortion ban will impact who her organization chooses to endorse, Herrod said it's too early in the campaign to make those decisions. For NPR News, I'm Ben Giles in Phoenix.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEATNUTS SONG, "WILD, WILD WHAT (INTERLUDE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ben Giles
[Copyright 2024 KJZZ]