AZ Mirror: Phoenix votes to de-prioritize enforcement of abortion laws

The Phoenix City Council voted 6-2 late Tuesday afternoon to direct  its police department to make state abortion laws its lowest priority for enforcement. 

Voting in favor of the resolution were Mayor Kate Gallego and Vice Mayor Laura Pastor, along with council members Yassamin Ansari, Carlos Garcia, Betty Guardado and Debra Stark. Voting against were council members Sal DiCiccio and Jim Waring. Council member Ann O’Brien was absent. 

The resolution, which Ansari, Gallego and Stark have been working on for months, condemns the U.S. Supreme Court’s rollback of federal abortion rights, overturning the Roe v. Wade decision, as well as speaks out against laws restricting abortion in Arizona at the state level.

Phoenix is following in the footsteps of Tucson, which approved a similar resolution in June, after the Roe decision was leaked.

Many of the people who spoke out against the resolution during the meeting mentioned their Christian faith and harshly condemned the council members planning to vote for the resolution. But on the other side, numerous pro-choice advocates called on the council to take a stronger stance against abortion restrictions. 

The legal landscape is complicated when it comes to abortion restrictions in Arizona, with a near-total ban on the books dating to 1864 that had been blocked by Roe. 

That law was reinstated Sept. 23 and then put on hold Oct. 7 by an appeals court judge as a case challenging it works its way through the courts. That means the presiding law, for now anyway, is a 15-week ban signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in March. Both laws target abortion providers and not women, and allow exceptions for medical emergencies.

The city said that it received an “extensive” number of online comments in favor of the resolution, but did not provide the number. During the meeting, 10 people spoke in its favor and 17 people spoke against it. Several of the people who spoke against the resolution said they did not live in the city of Phoenix, including a couple from San Tan Valley, a man from Litchfield Park and a man from Glendale. It’s unclear if any of the people who spoke in support of the resolution live outside the city. 

Of the people who made in-person comments, all of those who spoke in support of the resolution were women; nine of the people who spoke against it were men and eight were women. 

Jeff Durbin, a Mesa pastor, compared abortion rights activists to those who promoted slavery in the U.S. in the 1800s. 

“It is incontrovertible that what is in the womb is human from the moment of conception,” he said, adding that abortion dehumanizes people in the same way that slavery did. 

Amanda Mollindo, who previously volunteered for the Abortion Fund of Arizona, said the most difficult cases for her to assist with were pregnancies caused by rape or incest. She added that abortion can be life-saving for the mother and asked that the council make revisions to the resolution saying that no city funds will go toward prosecuting abortions. 

City Attorney Cris Meyer later explained that including such language could open the city to legal liability. 

Christopher Samuels of San Tan Valley said that if the council passed the resolution, it would be promoting the “ripping apart” of children. 

“There’s no more violent crime that’s being committed in the state (than abortion),” he said, calling the council resolution “absolutely abominable.” 

Sandra Renteria, who is retired from the Phoenix Police Department, told the council that she was on the force when the police had to take on responsibility for enforcing state immigration law, taking officers’ time away from investigating and attempting to quell violent crime. 

“Police officers do not want to be immigration police and they certainly don’t want to be abortion police,” she said. 

James Baird told the council members that it was hypocritical of them to say they supported women, Indigenous people and people of color and then support those people being “slaughtered” through abortion. 

Dianne Post, a local lawyer, spoke in favor of the resolution and called the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade “criminal.” 

“They are making a law based on the religious belief of one particular religion,” Post said, referring to the Christian belief that life begins at conception. 

She likened the inability of women to make decisions about their own bodies to slavery. 

Before the vote, council member DiCiccio said that he used to be pro-choice but has since changed his mind. He also pointed out that the resolution de-prioritizes enforcement of all abortions, even late term procedures that he said most people are against. 

Late-term abortions are sometimes performed because the mother learned of medical issues with a pregnancy, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or because they faced barriers to obtaining an abortion earlier in the pregnancy.

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