Supreme Court Demonstration
The use of abortion pills to terminate a pregnancy is set to become the next battleground in America's firght over reproductive rights AFP

Arizona's highest court on Tuesday reinstated a prohibition on nearly all abortions, based on a law dating back to 1864, which predates statehood and women's suffrage by half a century.

The state will become the 15th state to prohibit abortion at all stages of pregnancy following a ruling that permits officials to enforce the 160-year-old law criminalizing all abortions except in cases where a woman's life is in jeopardy.

In a 4-2 decision, the Arizona Supreme Court sided with an anti-abortion obstetrician and a county prosecutor who advocated for the implementation of the Civil War-era statute.

The decision came after the Democratic attorney general of the state chose not to enforce the law.

Arizona Justice John Lopez, appointed by a Republican governor, said that the state legislature "has never affirmatively created a right to, or independently authorized, elective abortion."

The 1864 law, which was codified in 1901 and later in 1913, prohibits abortion from the moment of conception. However, it includes an exception to protect the life of the woman.

The Civil War-era law, enacted half a century before Arizona achieved statehood, was never repealed. Last year, an appellate court ruled that the law could remain in effect as long as it was "harmonized" with a 2022 law.

The law does not include exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

The decision has caused significant confusion in Arizona regarding the precise timing during a pregnancy when abortion becomes outlawed.

The court said that enforcement of the ban will not start for at least two weeks.

However, based on an agreement reached in a related case in Arizona, enforcement could be delayed for up to two months, according to state Attorney General Kris Mayes and Planned Parenthood, the plaintiffs in the current case.

Mayes called the ruling "unconscionable and an affront to freedom."

The ruling implies that doctors can face prosecution for performing abortions, as the 1864 law stipulates a sentence of two to five years in prison for doctors or individuals who aid in the procedure.

The news sparked reactions from Democrats including President Joe Biden who strongly condemned the ruling and said it was "a result of the extreme agenda of Republican elected officials who are committed to ripping away women's freedom."

Calling it a "cruel ban," Biden added: "Millions of Arizonans will soon live under an even more extreme and dangerous abortion ban, which fails to protect women even when their health is at risk or in tragic cases of rape or incest."