Abortion Is On The Ballot In This Critical Arizona Prosecutor Race

by | Jul 19, 2022 | Politics

In September 2018, as credible allegations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh threatened to sink his Supreme Court nomination, Senate Republicans hired career prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to turn things around. Mitchell eagerly obliged. After publicly interrogating Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey-Ford, Mitchell wrote in a report that no “reasonable prosecutor would bring this case based on the evidence.” This wasn’t a criminal case, but having a special victims division prosecutor treat it as a potential one — only to discount it as lacking evidence — was apparently enough for several fence-sitting senators. Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48. AdvertisementKavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court, followed by that of anti-abortion judge Amy Coney Barrett, allowed the conservative justices to overturn Roe v. Wade last month, ending the constitutional right to abortion. As a result, abortion is now illegal or will soon be illegal in about half of all states — including in Arizona, where Mitchell is now the interim top prosecutor in the state’s most populous county.The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Mitchell as interim county attorney in April after her predecessor resigned, which triggered a special election to fill the role for the remainder of her term. The outcome of the race will determine whether abortion will be prosecuted as a crime in Maricopa County, home to the third-largest public prosecutorial agency in the country and half of Arizona residents. Mitchell is up against one other candidate for the Republican nomination in August, the winner of which will face Democrat Julie Gunnigle in November. Gunnigle is the only candidate in the race who has pledged not to enforce abortion bans. Maricopa county attorney candidate Julie Gunnigle is the only candidate in the race who has pledged not to prosecute abortion cases.Credit: Nappsack/Wayne Jung“I have been crystal clear since day one that I will never prosecute doctors or pregnant people for abortion. End of story,” Gunnigle said last month.AdvertisementArizona has an abortion ban dating back to at least 1901 — 11 years before Arizona became a state — that has been blocked by an injunction for nearly 50 years. State Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) has asked a Pima County judge to lift the injunction, now that the Roe decision no longer stands in the way. Arizona passed a separate law in March banning most abortions after 15 weeks, which is set to go into effect in September. Yet another law, passed in 2021, that grants “personhood” rights to fetuses, embryos and fertilized eggs was blocked by a federal judge earlier this month. Both Mitchell and her Republican primary challenger, Gina Godbehere, have suggested they would enforce abortion bans that go into effect. Prosecutors cannot protect abortion access in states where it’s banned, as health care workers will be increasingly unwilling to provide services in states where abortion is outlawed. But they can use their prosecutorial discretion to decline to pursue charges, protecting abortion providers, facilitators and recipients from criminal prosecution. Gunnigle has been warning about the threat to abortion rights long before the Supreme Court overturned the Roe decision, because Arizona had never repealed its antiquated abortion ban. “If Roe v. Wade were to fall overnight, we would have criminalization of our most basic reproductive rights, and the county attorney would be the person who has the most control over everyone’s reproductive destiny,” Gunnigle noted in July 2020, when she first ran for Maricopa County attorney. Gunnigle narrowly lost the 2020 election and began working …

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