How Kari Lake's position on abortion has shifted since the primary election

Republican candidate for Arizona governor Kari Lake has shifted her tone on abortion as she races toward the November election.
Stacey Barchenger
Arizona Republic

Republican candidate for Arizona governor Kari Lake has softened her tone on abortion as she races toward the November election, an up-for-grabs contest in which undecided voters rank abortion as a top issue.

Lake, a former television news anchor, has recently said she will follow Arizona's law, whatever courts determine it is.

A lawsuit filed this week seeks to end confusion about which of two laws prevails: an 1864 law that bans abortions except to save the life of the mother, and a 2022 law that prohibits abortions after 15 weeks with limited exceptions for medical emergencies.

Lawsuit:As confusion over abortion reigns in Arizona, medical association, doctor sue to restart procedure

What Lake said in the primary

Lake called the 1864 law, which does not include exceptions for rape or incest, a "great law," and said the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade was "the right thing." Last year, after Texas enacted a ban on abortion after 6 weeks, Lake called on the Arizona Legislature to follow suit, pledging to sign such a bill in a "heartbeat."

When asked by The Arizona Republic in June, she declined to say which of the conflicting laws she wanted to see in effect, but a spokesman said that "Kari is pro-life but supports exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother."

Abortion policy:Where do Kari Lake and Katie Hobbs stand on abortion and birth control?

What Lake is saying now

At a campaign event on Wednesday, and in other recent public statements, Lake's hard-line stance softened.

"The law is the law, and we need to abide by whatever the law turns out to be," she said Wednesday, while also reiterating her "pro-life" stance and saying "no matter how you were conceived, every life has value."

Her spokesman, Ross Trumble, told the Associated Press earlier this week that Lake did not plan to ask the state Legislature to change abortion law. Trumble also walked back Lake’s comments during a talk radio interview she believed abortion should be “rare but legal.”

Lake first pledged to "uphold laws on the books" a day after she declared victory in the Republican primary in August.

The context

Likely voters in Arizona who hadn't yet decided whom they'd vote for in the governor's race ranked abortion as their top concern, tied with economy/inflation, in a recent poll by The Arizona Republic and Suffolk University.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision protecting abortion rights, gave Democrats an issue they could champion in an election cycle seen as favorable for Republicans. Democrats in Arizona have sought to use the state's near-total ban, reinstated in recent weeks by a judge in Pima County, to mobilize voters this November by painting Republican opponents, including Lake, as too extreme on the issue.

The issues:What’s on Arizona voters’ minds? Inflation, abortion and threats to democracy

Why Lake's words matter

Lake's more measured approach as the election nears counters that Democratic narrative, leaving open the possibility that if a court says the 15-week ban is the prevailing law, Lake won't work to change it. Likewise, Democrats have warned if a judge says the near-total ban from 1864 prevails, Lake wouldn't seek change that, either.

Her latest position contrasts her previous calls to restrict abortion to six weeks of pregnancy, and adds further confusion to how Lake would act on bills that restrict or increase access to abortion if she is elected governor. Lake and her campaign have ignored questions from The Republic seeking clarity.

What's next

Ballots will get mailed out starting Oct. 12 to voters across the state who choose to vote early.

Lake is running for governor against Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who has pledged to overturn the 1864 law and said she believes abortion decisions should be made between a woman and her doctor — not the government or politicians.

Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at stacey.barchenger@arizonarepublic.com or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.

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