2 Republicans argue over last-minute push for abortion ban at Arizona Legislature

House Majority Leader Ben Toma scolds Rep. Jake Hoffman over a last-minute proposal to introduce an abortion ban.
Ray Stern
Arizona Republic

Two Republican Arizona lawmakers got into a heated confrontation over abortion restrictions as the Legislature's session was winding down last month.

While it was a sign of some division within the party, it also demonstrated how intent Republicans are on seeing a total ban on abortion in Arizona.

The fireworks exploded on the long-awaited last night of the 2022 legislative session. House members were sleep-deprived from the previous two late-night sessions and had just returned to work from a break following a lockdown in the House and Senate.

Minutes earlier, state troopers had used tear gas to disperse a crowd outside protesting the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, which was announced that morning.

As the House raced to adjourn for the year with only a few bills left to vote, Reps. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, and Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, launched a plan to introduce a new bill to explicitly ban abortion. A move like that would mean lawmakers couldn't finish their work that night and would have to come back two extra days.

As House video from June 24 shows, at about 9:30 p.m., Hoffman approached the dais with a document in his hand and talked with staff. As he turned to walk away, he and House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who was helping run the proceedings, began a very public argument.

Hoffman suggested that Toma was willing to let abortions occur until a new state law went into effect that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

"I'm not debating that with you," Toma said. "I'm more pro-life than you ever will be. Not only that, but I've done more to help life than you ever will."

Hoffman commented that Toma sounded "real professional."

Toma waved his finger at Hoffman during the argument and appeared to stop himself from lunging toward Hoffman at one point.

Rep. Jake Hoffman storms off after an argument with Rep. Ben Toma.

"You're going to waste everyone's time. Everyone's time you're going to waste in a political stunt. Count to 31, Jake!" he yelled, referring to the number of House members required to pass legislation.

Hoffman, who has battled with House leadership previously, later took to social media to criticize Toma and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, portraying them as less than committed to banning abortion. Bowers and Toma are both strongly anti-abortion.

Toma, in an interview Thursday, said he doesn't understand how it helps the "cause" to argue with "other 100% pro-life Republicans."

"We're getting into an argument over something that we all support," he said.

Hoffman didn't let leadership know about the proposed bill and didn't follow the rules to introduce it, including having an actual bill prepared, Toma said.

Trying to rush such an important piece of legislation could have resulted in disaster, especially if it failed, he said. Most Republicans are anti-abortion and are eager to see a pre-statehood law that mandates prison time for abortion providers take effect, he said. But a court might view a last-minute attempt to ban abortion as evidence that lawmakers didn't consider the pre-statehood ban effective.

Lawmakers will take time to see what the courts do about the confusing state of abortion laws in Arizona following the Supreme Court opinion, then possibly enact new, abortion-related laws next year if necessary, Toma said.

Hoffman didn't return text messages seeking comment.

Questions about AZ abortion law

The timing of Hoffman's proposal was good in one respect for Republicans who want to see an end to legal abortions.

With the Supreme Court's removal of Roe protections, putting the question of abortion policy back in the hands of individual states, many Republicans look forward to enacting a total ban. But legal scholars and local leaders differ on which laws are in effect post-Roe, if any.

They range from a pre-statehood law that mandates prison time for abortion providers, a law passed this year that limits abortions to 15 weeks of pregnancy or a law passed in 2021 that bestows citizenship rights on fetuses.

Hoffman and Parker's proposal may have cleared up the confusion. Hoffman wrote a lengthy post about the incident on Telegram, complete with a grainy video of the argument with Toma that Parker shot with her phone.

Hoffman said his plan was a measure "to fully ban abortion." He'd prepared a motion with the help of House staff to make a late introduction of a bill "and that it be voted by the chamber on the third consecutive day."

That would have meant getting as many of the 60 House members as possible back to the Capitol on Monday and Tuesday when almost everyone was anxious to get out that night. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who had taken over the dais to serve temporarily as House chair, refused to recognize Hoffman's request to make a motion about his proposal. Parker tried to help him by forcing a floor vote on whether Finchem's decision should stand.

The incident with Toma occurred before the vote took place. Toma told The Republic that what set him off was Hoffman's insinuation that by not cooperating with him, Toma would be "letting babies die."

Only Hoffman, Parker and Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, voted in Hoffman's favor, so Hoffman never introduced anything.

The House ended its role in the session after 11 p.m.

"Yes, I probably shouldn't have reacted as viscerally as I did," Toma said. "There is no ambiguity whatsoever where I stand on life."

Another fight with House leadership

Hoffman wrote later on social media that it "breaks my heart" that he'll have to wait until 2023 to introduce a bill that would save "babies' lives."

"I get it," he wrote on Telegram. "Republican members are upset with me and Parker for doing what we did. I'll live with it. Trying to protect life is worth it, even it means being disliked."

Yet according to Toma, Hoffman and Parker's plan didn't appear to be a serious attempt to move legislation. They didn't have the Rules Committee approve a late introduction, Hoffman didn't get approval to introduce another bill and, importantly, didn't actually have a bill.

Hoffman and Parker have stood to the political right of traditional conservatives in the Legislature on the issue of election security and have battled with House leadership previously over election related bills. He is a staunch promoter of baseless claims that Trump was cheated out of the presidency in the 2020 election, and was one of the fake electors who asked Pence to overturn the election.

Toma is running to keep his House seat but has some competition in the Aug. 2 primary election. If he makes it through, he'll join Parker in the House, whose reelection is already assured because she has no primary or general election competition.

Hoffman, also without competition, is set to become a state senator next year.

Reach the reporter at rstern@arizonarepublic.com or 480-276-3237. Follow him on Twitter @raystern.

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