Americans will be forgiven for imagining that the 2022 midterm election cycle finally finished with last week’s victory for Senator Raphael Warnock in the Georgia runoff vote. But it’s not done yet.
The midterm elections produced scores of close results—especially in contests for seats in the US House of Representatives—and they have led to their share of objections, complaints, and calls for reviews of the numbers. But only a handful of races were so close that they triggered automatic recounts. One of them is in Arizona, and how it plays out will matter, a lot, for abortion rights.
The contest for Arizona attorney general has come down to just 510 ballots, with Democrat Kris Mayes at 1,254,612 votes and Republican Abe Hamadeh at 1,254,102. That’s well within the 0.5 percent window for an automatic recount, which began on December 5 in Arizona counties that have until December 21 to certify recount results.
Democrats had a good year in Arizona, winning the state’s US Senate seat with relative ease, and narrowly taking the governorship and the critical post of secretary of state. If the lead for Mayes is confirmed by the recount, the party will have swept most of the major statewide contests, giving credence to Arizona Republic columnist Greg Moore’s postelection declaration: “The reputation was red. The prediction was purple. But Arizona is a blue state.”
If the blue surge has carried Mayes to victory, as many observers expect the recount will confirm, the result in the race will involve more than an update of the partisan win-loss record. The differences between Mayes and Hamadeh could not be starker, especially on the issue of abortion rights.
During the 2022 campaign, Mayes aired a television ad in which she appeared at a health care facility and announced, “As attorney general, I will never prosecute a woman or a doctor for abortion care. Medical decisions should be made here, not in a prosecutor’s office. My opponent wants to lock up doctors and punish women. Not on my watch.”
Hamadeh has signaled that he would enforce the state’s anti-abortion laws.
The disagreement between the attorney general candidates is a serious matter in Arizona, one of a number of states where an outdated abortion ban remains on the books. Arizona’s 1864 law makes all abortions illegal, except those that are necessary to save a pregnant person’s life. Under the Roe v. Wade decision, this law was not enforced. But with the court’s June decision overturning Roe, social conservatives are pressing to renew the 158-year-old law, which mandates a prison sentence of two to five years for anyone who helps someone get an abortion.
In October, after an appeals court blocked enforcement of the 1864 law, the state’s Republican attorney general, Mark Brnovich, and lawyers for abortion rights groups reached an agreement to temporarily halt it until next year. But the legal wrangling continues. As Brittany Fonteno, the head of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said in October, “We are still on a long an uncertain path to restoring the fundamental right to abortion in Arizona and making this essential healthcare truly accessible and equitable for all people.”
The Democratic victory in the race for governor was an important win for supporters of abortion rights in the state. But Republicans have retained control of the Arizona legislature, making it unlikely that any legislation to defend abortion rights will be enacted. So the position of the next attorney general on the question of enforcement—as well as all the related legal battles—is consequential.
The recount will decide whether Mayes can keep her “Not on my watch” promise as the state’s top law-enforcement officer.