After Roe: A messy state of play
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was a culture-altering event for the United States, ending almost five decades of precedent that allowed people across the country the right to an abortion. But the ruling will affect people in drastically different ways, depending on where they live. Because the high court did not ban the procedure outright, all abortion-related policies will be left to the individual states, creating a motley regional legal system running a range from full access to all-out bans with few, if any, exceptions.
There’s nothing uniform about the resulting map. Instead, huge swaths of the country — the South, Midwest and Mountain West — have already enacted restrictions or are poised to do so, while other regional clusters — the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic and the West Coast — are protective zones where abortion is expected to remain legal.
As the focus shifts to the states, the activism is following. Both sides have been reenergized by the court’s ruling. For anti-abortion activists, that means using the momentum of their recent victory to fight for a total ban on the procedure across all states.
“Honestly, the movement has just begun,” said A.J. Hurley, head of Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust. “The fight now is at the local level.”
Abortion rights defenders, meanwhile, are seeking ways to maximize access for abortion services — including a push to have President Biden act unilaterally — particularly in those states where they are newly illegal. As part of that effort, pro-abortion rights states are already eying strategies to welcome people from states that prohibit the procedure.
“We’re going to have to fight at every level to make sure that we are protecting people,” said Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), “and particularly low-income people and people of color who will be most impacted by this decision.”
If it weren’t confusing enough already, the legal landscape is also being muddied by new lawsuits challenging some of the state restrictions that were implemented since Roe was eliminated. On Monday, for instance, a Louisiana judge blocked the state’s newly installed abortion ban, which was triggered by the court’s ruling just three days earlier. And advocates have already sued over similar restrictions in Utah, Idaho, Kentucky and Mississippi.
In the aftermath of the monumental ruling, here’s a primer outlining what the states have done, or what they’re expected to do, on abortion access.
Thirteen conservative-leaning states had adopted abortion restrictions prior to Friday’s ruling with the idea that they would take effect when Roe was overturned, or shortly thereafter: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
The restrictions within those states vary by degree, from blanket bans beginning with fertilization to bans that begin a certain number of weeks after conception. Five of those states have exceptions for rape and incest, while the others do not.
When the new restrictions launch also varies by location. In three states — Kentucky, South Dakota and Louisiana — the ban was immediate, kicking in when Roe was repealed on Friday, according to researchers at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.
In three others — Texas, Idaho and Tennessee — the ban will take effect automatically 30 days from the court ruling. An additional state, Oklahoma, had installed a ban in May, even with Roe still in place. And a number of other conservative strongholds — including Florida, Montana, Nebraska and Indiana — are expected to adopt bans, according to Guttmacher.
A number of states have, or will soon have, blanket bans on abortion, with exceptions when the life of the mother is at risk but not in cases of rape or incest. Those include Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) defended the fact that rape and incest victims are now prohibited from terminating their unwanted pregnancies, arguing that “every life is precious.”
“I just have never believed that having a tragedy or tragic situation happen to someone is a reason to have another tragedy occur,” Noem said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation”
Bans with exceptions
A number of states poised to adopt abortion bans are expected to carve out exceptions, most typically in cases of rape or incest. That list includes Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
In Idaho, victims of rape or incest who want to get an abortion must file a police report and submit a copy to the physician before the procedure takes place.
Other states have adopted bans but allow a short window for legal abortions before the prohibitions kick in. Montana and North Carolina, for instance, have both approved bans after 20 weeks. Arizona and Florida have passed bans at 15 weeks. Ohio and South Carolina have put the figure at six weeks. And Georgia and Iowa also enacted six-week bans, but they hit a wall in the courts, where a judge blocked them.
Elsewhere, GOP lawmakers are pressing for new restrictions, though they’re unlikely to be enacted anytime soon due to Democratic opposition elsewhere in their respective state government.
In Virginia, for instance, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has proposed a 15-week ban, which is almost certain to fail while Democrats control the state Senate. Similarly, Wisconsin has an age-old abortion ban on the books that the state’s Democratic governor is vowing not to enforce.
Pro-abortion rights states
While the middle of the country eyes tough new restrictions in a post-Roe America, the more liberal coastal states are rushing in the other direction, vowing to install new protections that not only codify abortion rights into law, but also create new tools for helping people in the states that prohibit the procedure access abortion services across borders.
“We have grants going to them to help them come to New York,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). “We are opening up our homes, our clinics — everything to help everyone through this crisis period.”
On the West Coast, abortion services will remain available in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Nevada. Democratic Govs. Gavin Newsom, Kate Brown and Jay Inslee — who lead California, Oregon and Washington, respectively — signed a multistate commitment on Friday vowing to defend access to abortion, contraceptives and other reproductive healthcare.
The same is true along the Northeastern seaboard, where Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland and Virginia are poised to retain or strengthen abortion services.
As outliers in the middle of the country, Minnesota, Illinois and Colorado are also fighting to protect the services previously guaranteed by Roe.
The state-based efforts will be crucial to the preservation of abortion services in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, since the Democratic abortion rights supporters in Congress don’t have the numbers to enact new federal protections.
It’s a dynamic they know only too well.
“It is clear that the path forward will depend on the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote Friday to her fellow Democrats.