Apr 23, 2024 - News

The man who's blocking a repeal of Arizona's abortion ban

Illustration of Ben Toma, with radiating lines.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

Republican Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma is determined to do all he can to continue blocking legislation to repeal the state's pre-Roe abortion ban recently reinstated by the state Supreme Court.

Why it matters: There's a widespread sense at the state Capitol that while enough Republicans support repealing the ban in the House, not enough are willing to overrule Toma to do so.

  • The speaker decides what goes up for a House vote, but a majority of the 60-person chamber can override him.

The latest: Repeal proponents are expected to make a third attempt to force a vote Wednesday when the House convenes at 10am.

  • The state Senate narrowly moved a repeal bill forward last week with two Republican votes and could approve it as early as next Wednesday.
  • But in the House, Democrats still need a second Republican to override the speaker, who vowed last week to continue blocking the vote, despite the Senate's movement.

Flashback: The Arizona Supreme Court two weeks ago ruled that an 1864 ban on all abortions except those necessary to save the mother's life is enforceable.

Zoom in: Toma's opposition to abortion is shaped by his Christian beliefs, his background as a refugee from a communist dictatorship, and his college studies on philosophy and bioethics, the New York Times recently wrote.

  • Born in Romania in 1979, his family fled the communist regime when he was 7, reaching the U.S. in 1987.
  • "It comes down to: What do I think is right? What is just? What is ethical? And I have made my decision. And I am not going to change my mind," he told the Times.
  • Toma was appointed to fill a House vacancy in his West Valley district in 2017 and was ultimately elected speaker after the 2022 election.

The intrigue: Toma is also running in a crowded primary for the 8th Congressional District, a heavily Republican seat in which the GOP primary winner is unlikely to face much of a challenge in the general election.

  • State Rep. Travis Grantham (R-Gilbert) told Axios he's skeptical the congressional race is influencing the speaker's decision and Toma is probably "pro-life no matter what."

The other side: State Senate President Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) also opposes repealing the ban but that hasn't dissuaded efforts in his chamber to do so.

  • State Sen. T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge), one of the two Republicans who supported advancing the repeal, told Axios there's no difference between Petersen's and Toma's abortion positions.

Yes, but: House Republicans last year approved a rule requiring the speaker's support to amend or suspend the chamber's rules — which is necessary to move a repeal bill forward. No similar rule exists in the Senate.

  • House members can override that with 31 votes.
  • Grantham said the rule makes it so that forcing such a vote amounts to "a smack in the speaker's face."

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show Toma was born in 1979 (not 1978) and appointed in 2017 (not 2018).

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