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Maricopa County Attorney candidates respond to Friday's abortion ruling

An Arizona judge last week ruled that prosecutors could enforce a 158-year-old near-total abortion ban.

PHOENIX — Editor's note: The above video is from a previously aired broadcast.

An Arizona judge last week ruled that prosecutors could enforce a 158-year-old near-total abortion ban. On Tuesday, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell laid out her position on how she plans to move forward as the county's top prosecutor. 

Mitchell emphasized that the recent ruling did not resolve which law among "conflicting statutes" applies to the state of Arizona regarding abortion. 

She said that the Maricopa County Attorney's Office would wait to seek guidance from the court before taking action if further clarification was not provided by the courts or legislature.

"I will not prosecute women for having abortions." Mitchell said, "And no statute even suggests a woman will ever be prosecuted for her decision. Likewise, I will not revictimize survivors of rape, incest, or molestation."

Both laws, however, target doctors who give abortions. Under the Civil War-era 1864 abortion ban, doctors could face two to five years in prison for providing an abortion.

Mitchell was clear that more clarification was needed from courts or legislature before the law could properly be applied.

Statement from Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell on Pima County Ruling regarding abortion.

Posted by Maricopa County Attorney's Office on Tuesday, September 27, 2022

"No woman can be prosecuted for having an abortion in Arizona. State law applies only to those who perform abortions. Ultimately, the county attorneys will decide how to enforce the statutes," said Arizona Attorney General’s Office spokesperson Katie Conner.

Mitchell closed her statement by emphasizing her love of the community and saying she planned to prioritize fentanyl and violent crime in her prosecution strategy.

Mitchell did not mention whether or not she planned to pursue litigation against doctors who provided abortions once the laws were clarified.

In an interview with 12News, Mitchell's opponent in the race for Maricopa County Attorney, Julie Gunnigle, said doctors have been asking for clarity on how close their patients must be to death before they can perform a life-saving abortion.

Gunnigle said she "would not prosecute women or healthcare providers; she believes it is not in the interest of justice nor an effective use of taxpayers’ resources to investigate, criminalize and imprison Arizona women or doctors for private and personal healthcare decisions."

"I want to know under what circumstances will it ever be in the interest of justice to prosecute a pregnant rape survivor or her doctor for providing healthcare because, you see, the county attorney is being deliberately misleading by leaving out healthcare providers from this statement," Gunnigle said.

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