‘Party has just outgrown anything I recognize’: Abortion rights key in Arizona governor’s race

Since a judge in Pima County ruled that Arizona can enforce a almost complete ban on abortionaccess to abortion has become a key issue in tight match between Republican Kari Lake and Democrat Katie Hobbs to be the state’s next governor.

In September, a judge lifted a decades-old injunction blocking enforcement of a law that had been in place since 1901, more than a decade before Arizona became a state. This law makes it illegal for anyone to provide an abortion surgically or by medication and is punishable by two to five years in prison.

The decision, weeks before the Nov. 8 midterm elections, energizes Democratic voters and some independent Republicans in the state, whose support could be especially critical in the race.

Former Republican state Sen. Heather Carter said Tuesday she is changing her party registration to independent because of the “extreme” positions her GOP colleagues are taking on abortion rights.

“I’ve been a registered Republican since I was 18 years old, but the party has just transcended anything I recognize (from) when I first registered as a Republican,” Carter said in an interview with CBS News.

Katie Hobbs, left, and Kari Lake

Brandon Bell/Getty Images, Brandon Bell/Getty Images

He said Arizona’s abortion ban could “create unintended consequences that are dangerous to women” and would turn Arizona into “a vigilante state for women receiving health care.”

Carter says she’s urging Republican voters to cross party lines this fall. “I’m asking you to vote for reason,” he said.

Some Republican voters have said they are open to supporting Democrats in November over the abortion rights issue.

“We need to leave women’s bodies alone. As men, we have no right, we should be silent,” said Jorge Santana, a lifelong registered Republican who works in higher education. Speaking to CBS News at a farmer’s market south of Phoenix, Santana said abortion rights are the main issue driving him to vote Democratic this fall.

For 21-year-old Maddie Merker, a student at Arizona State University, the recent change in abortion law motivates her to vote Democratic, too. She said she wants to hear the candidates in the gubernatorial race talk more about environmental issues, but acknowledged that abortion rights is the main issue driving her vote.

“People are going to have abortions, it’s just whether they’re going to do it safely or not, so it doesn’t make sense to not let people do it because then it just puts more women at risk, so I can’t agree with that. Merker said.

A day after the judge’s decision, Hobbs held a press conference promising to “use every tool at my disposal to restore abortion rights in Arizona.” That led to her campaign’s best fundraising week with over $1.2 million in grassroots donations fueled by reproductive rights advocates.

Lake’s campaign has continued to focus on immigration, education and the economy, but the Republican nominee was asked about the abortion decision during a recent appearance on Fox News.

“I’m pro-life. I’ve never backed down from that and I never will,” Lake said. “Democrats have tried to politicize the issue in such a disturbing way,” he added.

On her campaign website, Lake says “we also need to support people who choose to act responsibly when they are not ready to have a child, and that means making all common forms of birth control available over the counter and providing help to those who are financially unable to pay for their birth control.”

In Tucson, Lake supporters like Karen Kosha agree that there should be some exceptions like rape and incest for abortion, “but to use it as birth control, and that’s what a lot of Americans do, no, I don’t support the birth control by killing babies’.

Retired retail worker Jan McSheffrey told CBS News she is a lifelong Republican and will vote for Lake because of her stance on abortion. “Abortion is basically child sacrifice in my estimation,” McSheffrey said Sunday before an event at the Lake in Tucson.

Small business owner Beth Rouin said she has voted for Democrats, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but plans to support the Republican ticket in Arizona this year. She voted for former President Trump in 2016 and 2020, but said she’s not a “blind Trumper,” adding that she likes Lake because she’s “not afraid to speak her mind.”

Rouen said abortion rights should be left up to the states, adding that women in Arizona who want the procedure can always drive to California.

“I’m against it, but I also think a lot of women are up against the wall when they make that choice, so I kind of understand,” Rouen said.

Two recent polls showed Hobbs leading Lake by one point with less than six weeks to go before Election Day. Both polls showed abortion rights as one of the top issues for voters.

Abortion is a major motivation for women voters in Arizona, according to a Suffolk University/Arizona Republic poll. More than seven in 10 Democratic women ranked the issue as their top priority this year, compared to 49 percent of independent women and 37 percent of Republican women.

The close gubernatorial race is drawing attention from national GOP figures as well. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is holding rallies with Cary Lake and Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters on Tuesday and Wednesday in the state.

On Sunday, Trump will also campaign for Lake and Masters in Arizona.

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