Black and white image of Fox News host Sean Hannity on a yellow and green backdrop
Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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Sean Hannity is frantically covering for Republicans after Arizona reinstated a 19th-century abortion ban

In the days after a Arizona Supreme Court ruling reinstated a draconian Civil War-era abortion ban, Fox host Sean Hannity scrambled to spin the narrative to avoid backlash directed at Republicans ahead of Election Day.

The Fox News host has demanded that Arizona Republicans change the law, claimed that the near-total ban is unpopular with Republicans — even as Republican elected officials in the state block any legislative fixes — and blamed Democrats for “demagoguing” about abortion and for not repealing the law. He's also simultaneously downplayed public outrage while acknowledging Republicans’ vulnerability on reproductive rights as an election issue.

That vulnerability has also been apparent in former President Donald Trump's vague recent commentary on the issue. Before the Arizona ruling came out, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee posted a message online saying abortion rules are up to states but not specifying whether he would support a federal ban. After the decision came out, Trump suggested state officials change the 1864 law.

  • Background on the Arizona Supreme Court reinstating an 1864 near-total abortion ban and related commentary from Trump and Fox News

    • On April 8, Trump shared a vague stance on abortion ban in a Truth Social video. In the video, he said, “The states will determine by vote or legislation, or perhaps both. … Many will have a different number of weeks, or some will have more conservative than others, and that’s what they will be.” Mainstream media largely misreported that Trump suggested abortion “should" be a state’s rights issue, but in reality the video message was just another effort to obfuscate his stance on reproductive rights. Nowhere in his video message did Trump say that abortion “should” be left for states to decide, leaving the door open for federal bans on abortion and mifepristone. [Media Matters, 4/8/24]

    • On April 9, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld an 1864 law that bans nearly all abortions. The court indicated in its ruling that physicians who provide abortions can be prosecuted: “In light of this Opinion, physicians are now on notice that all abortions, except those necessary to save a woman’s life, are illegal.” [The Associated Press, 4/10/24]

    • On April 10, Trump responded to the Arizona Supreme Court decision, suggesting state officials change it. Amid more vague waffling about his position on abortion, Trump indicated that state officials should change the 1864 law: “It’ll be straightened out and as you know, it’s all about states’ rights. … It’ll be straightened out, and I’m sure that the governor and everybody else are going to bring it back into reason and that’ll be taken care of, I think, very quickly.” After suggesting otherwise previously, Trump also claimed he would not sign a national abortion ban. [The Associated Press, 4/12/24; ABC News, 4/10/24; NPR, 4/10/24]

    • The same day, Arizona Republicans thwarted attempts by state Democrats to repeal the abortion ban in both the Republican-controlled state House and Senate. In a joint statement, Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma, both Republicans, promised to review the ruling and listen to their constituents on how to proceed. However, Toma, who is facing a tight primary in a heavily Republican district, reportedly told Axios that he would not allow a vote on repealing the ban. [The New York Times, 4/10/24; Axios, 4/10/24]

    • Fox’s initial response to the near-total ban was to bury coverage of it. On his radio show, Sean Hannity urged Arizona Republicans to repeal the law. Later on his Fox program, after the state’s Republican officials blocked the attempts to repeal the abortion ban, Hannity blamed Democrats, claiming that “they would rather use it as a political tool ahead of November.” [Media Matters, 4/10/24; Media Matters, 4/11/24]

  • Hannity frantically ran cover for Republicans on his radio show, though he mentioned the ban only twice on his Fox News show

    • In his first on-air comments about the ruling on April 10, Hannity claimed that “there’s no Republican that supports this” before urging Arizona Republicans to “change the law now.” Hannity lamented Democrats’ supposed “demagoguing” and “lying” about the ban, then addressed the Republican-led Arizona legislature directly: “This is my message for all of you elected state Republican leaders out there in Arizona. Get your act together. Change the law now.” He continued, “What you need to do is follow the Dobbs decision, 15 weeks.” The host urged lawmakers to find a gestational limit that “would be palpable to the overwhelming number” of Arizona residents. “Stand up and do your job and get it done now,” Hannity demanded. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 4/10/24]

    • Later in the show, Hannity said “anybody with a brain” will speak out against the Arizona law — including Trump — but also downplayed the “hysteria” by claiming medication abortions' prevalence will eventually render “this entire topic ... meaningless.” Though Hannity noted Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake’s knee-jerk disavowal of the ban, he failed to mention her endorsement of the 1864 law during her 2022 gubernatorial campaign, when she called it “a great law.” Hannity also repeated his request for Arizona Republicans — who “have majorities in both chambers” — to come up with a new abortion law. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 4/10/24; Politico, 4/11/24; MSNBC, 4/12/24]

    • After a caller suggested that the ban should be left as it is, Hannity again demanded that Arizona Republicans “change the law immediately,” saying that otherwise Trump “will be very likely to lose that state.” Hannity said he didn’t care if state legislators went “against their principle” or “that their constituents will be angry.” He put it directly: “If it comes down and it's going to be a total ban, and total restrictions on abortion on-demand, they will lose the House, and they — Donald Trump … will be very likely to lose that state. … You will be blamed and you will all lose your jobs.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 4/10/24]

    • On his Fox News show that night, after Arizona Republicans blocked a repeal effort, Hannity blamed Arizona Democrats for failing to “get rid of” the law because “they would rather use it as a political tool” ahead of Election Day. “This will be fixed in the next week or two, let not your heart be troubled. I can pretty much assure that that will happen,” Hannity promised his viewers. He mentioned the Arizona ruling on Fox News only twice; once on April 10, and very briefly the next day while listing various Biden administration grievances. [Fox News, Hannity, 4/10/24, 4/11/24]

    • The next day, on his radio show, Hannity continued to downplay the decision, predicting that “this will be resolved in a week or two,” then called on Arizona Republicans to “unite” to revise the state’s abortion law. Hannity warned that “Republicans better be very, very savvy when it comes to this issue” before admitting that abortion is “maybe the biggest reason why the predicted red wave never occurred” in the 2022 midterm elections. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 4/11/24]

    • Later, Hannity assured a caller that he was “not freaking out like everybody else over this decision on abortion by the Arizona Supreme Court.” He speculated that “everybody’s panic is going to have been for nothing” because the law would be reversed “probably by some time next week.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 4/11/24]

    • Hannity again called for Arizona lawmakers to “provide a fix to what this decision has caused.” He said Arizona’s law “is probably the most restrictive” abortion ban, even though at least half a dozen other states have near-total abortion bans in place with no exceptions for rape or incest. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 4/11/24; CNN, 4/9/24]

    • Later in the show, Hannity interviewed former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who repeated the Fox host’s demands for Arizona lawmakers to roll back the near-total ban. Brnovich, who fought to reinstate the ban after Roe was overturned, said that “it’s so important for Republican leaders here … to act quickly” to counteract the Biden campaign’s Arizona ad blitz. “Republicans don’t want to get wiped out in states like Arizona, and maybe even other swing states, because this could have a contingent effect,” he said. Hannity replied, “I agree with everything you just said.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 4/11/24; Nevada Current, 4/9/24; NBC News, 4/11/24]

    • Hannity did not substantively mention the ruling again until a radio caller brought it up the next day, to which he briefly responded, “I'm not hitting the panic button on the Arizona issue right now." He added: “I am telling Republicans out there to get their act together and be practical, like you're saying. However, if they let this simmer too long, they are going to make a big mistake for sure.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 4/12/24]