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How Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake has shifted her abortion stance

In 2022, Republican candidate Kari Lake, who was vying to be governor, called abortion the “ultimate sin” and praised a 160-year-old Arizona measure that virtually outlawed abortion as “a great law.”

But in recent weeks, as it became clear the Arizona Supreme Court was nearing a decision on the fate of that law, Lake, now vying to be a U.S. senator, has called law “out of step with Arizonans.”

Lake, a former television news anchor who narrowly lost her 2022 gubernatorial race to Gov. Katie Hobbs (D), has been striking a different tone on reproductive rights as the issue shapes up to be an animating force this election cycle. The spotlight has been strong on Arizona after the state Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a near-total ban that was enacted even before Arizona became a state can be enforced.

The ruling, which is not yet in effect, would outlaw the procedure except to save a pregnant person’s life. Health-care providers who perform abortions could be punished with prison time, though Arizona’s attorney general, Democrat Kris Mayes, has vowed not to enforce any ban. The decision has sent shock waves throughout the battleground state and could jeopardize Republican hopes of picking up a seat in the U.S. Senate. Lake is expected to face Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego in the November general election.

Since Tuesday’s ruling, Lake has called on Hobbs and the GOP-led state legislature to come together on a solution. In a 5½-minute campaign video released Thursday, Lake sought to appeal to the majority of the state, saying the near-total abortion ban — which invokes an 1864 law that states that anyone who administers an abortion could face a mandatory prison sentence of two years to five years — is “out of line with where the people of this state are.”

In the video, Lake declared that if elected to the Senate, she would not support federal funding for abortions nor would she support a federal abortion ban. She expressed support for abortion exceptions in the case of rape, incest or threat to the life of the pregnant person, and also noted that she wants other those who are pregnant to have “more choices” — but did not get into specifics.

“I chose life, but I’m not every woman. I want to make sure that every woman who finds herself pregnant has more choices so that she can make that choice that I made,” she said.

Along with outlining her position on abortion, Lake also expressed her support for what she called a “baby bonus” — providing tax incentives for individuals who get married and lowering their tax rate for each child born. Throughout the video, Lake repeatedly associated her stance on the abortion issue with former president Donald Trump — who continues to poll ahead of President Biden in Arizona.

When asked for comment, Lake’s campaign referred The Washington Post to the video posted Thursday.

Trump has found himself having to shift on abortion, especially this election cycle. Just a day before the Arizona ruling came out, Trump said states should make their own decisions about regulating abortion. But then, he criticized the Arizona court for reinstating an abortion law he said goes too far.

Lake was also among a long list of GOP politicians who had declared that they believe life begins at conception.

But ever since Roe v. Wade was overturned nationally two years ago, Arizona has been confronted with how to change its laws. Since December 2022, the state allowed doctors to provide abortions up to 15 weeks into a pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies.

Then came an Alabama Supreme Court ruling in February that declared that frozen embryos should be considered children, prompting many providers of in vitro fertilization to temporarily halt the procedure as they weighed the consequences of the decision. The Alabama ruling prompted many Republicans — including Lake and members of Congress who had signed onto legislation declaring that life begins at conception — to express their support for in vitro fertilization.

Now Arizona voters are poised to consider whether to amend the state’s constitution to enshrine abortion rights in November. Polls show that a majority of Arizona voters want abortion to be legal and many say it’s an issue that motivates their voting decision.

An October New York Times-Siena College poll found that 59 percent of Arizona registered voters said abortion should be mostly or always legal; 34 percent said it should be mostly or always illegal. In a Fox News poll from March, 39 percent of Arizona voters said abortion would be extremely important in deciding their vote for president, and 32 percent said it would be very important. Those who supported Biden in 2020 were nearly twice as likely to say the issue would be extremely important in their vote, 51 percent to 27 percent.

Arizona’s ruling — and Republicans’s response to it — have again highlighted the electoral challenge the GOP faces over their party’s record on abortion and reproductive rights.

So far, access to abortion in the post-Roe era has been a winning stance for Democrats, and ballot measures to expand abortion access have been successful, even in Republican-dominated states. At the same time, Republicans like Lake are finding they have had to revisit what they’ve said about the issue in the past.

During a Republican gubernatorial debate in 2022, when Lake expressed support for the 1864 law, she added that abortion pills should be illegal and said she believes life begins at conception.

“My personal belief is that all life matters. All life counts, and all life is precious, and I don’t believe in abortion,” she said then. “I think the older law is going to take and is going to go into effect. That’s what I believe will happen.”

Lake also told “The Conservative Circus with James T. Harris” in a radio interview in 2022 that she supported a law that prohibits abortions with exceptions to save the life of the mother.

“I’m incredibly thrilled that we are going to have a great law that’s already on the books,” Lake said, adding that “it will prohibit abortion in Arizona except to save the life of a mother. And I think we’re going to be paving the way and setting course for other states to follow.”

Lake who remains the front-runner ahead of the state’s GOP primary this summer, will then probably face off against Gallego, a member of Congress from Phoenix. He and other Democrats are seizing the opportunity to attack her shifting comments on the issue.

Speaking to reporters before appearing alongside Vice President Harris at a campaign rally in Tucson on Friday, Gallego seized on the importance of abortion rights to voters, saying abortion access was “the number one political issue” in Arizona.

Gallego and Harris both blamed Trump for what’s happening in Arizona, connecting the new near-total abortion ban to Trump’s appointment of conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices who ultimately overturned Roe in 2022.

“The overturning of Roe was, without any question, a seismic event — and this ban here in Arizona is one of the biggest aftershocks yet,” Harris said.

Lake may also be losing some of her core supporters and antiabortion activists as she struggles for a more moderate message. Steve Deace, an Iowa-based conservative talk show host, wrote on X this week that he was “extremely disappointed” by Lake’s opposition to the ruling. “In 2022, I thought Kari Lake was one of the best candidates I’ve ever seen, and said so. Now she is almost completely unrecognizable from the candidate she was then, just two years later,” he wrote.

Kim Owens, who has long been involved with the Arizona Republican Party, also said she was disappointed by Lake’s recent statements.

“If you are pro-life and you’re looking at the landscape and you recognize that this is something we’ve been fighting for decades and that the fight continues, in Arizona we’re faced with a ballot proposition that is an abomination,” Owens said.

Owens, who supports Lake’s GOP primary competitor in the Senate race Mark Lamb, a sheriff, said she thinks Lake is “trying to go outside of her base” to attract more voters.

“I think she understands that she does not have the allure she once did. She’s seen the numbers. Mark Lamb is picking up a lot of support from party faithful, and she’s afraid she’s going to lose her base,” she said.

Mariana Alfaro, Yvonne Wingett-Sanchez Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Sabrina Rodriguez contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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