Abortion Could Become Illegal in Half the States if Roe is Overturned

By: - December 2, 2021 12:00 am

Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi. A Supreme Court ruling next year could overturn abortion protections that date to the 1970s. Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press

If the Supreme Court rules next year to overturn landmark legal decisions that protect a woman’s right to obtain an abortion, the procedures could quickly become illegal in about half the states.  

Twelve states have so-called trigger laws on the books that would ban all or nearly all abortions if the court overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion nationally, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a national reproductive rights nonprofit. Fourteen states have bans that either predate Roe or have been enacted since then. Some states have both trigger bans and other types of abortion bans on the books.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that asks the Supreme Court to overturn longstanding abortion protections and uphold a 2018 Mississippi law that bans all abortions beyond the 15th week of pregnancy, except in cases that involve a life-threatening medical emergency or fetuses unable to survive outside the womb.   

If the court agrees with Mississippi and opts to end the constitutional right to an abortion, the U.S. likely will split between states that ban abortions and states that don’t. Fifteen states and Washington, D.C., have laws that would protect abortion rights if Roe and another key ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, were overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

States have considered a flurry of both abortion rights and anti-abortion bills in recent years, anticipating that the Supreme Court might add abortion restrictions or even overturn Roe v. Wade thanks to the addition of three conservative justices nominated by President Donald Trump. Trump also appointed more than 220 lower court judges around the country.

Texas this year passed a controversial abortion law that allows ordinary people to sue anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion after cardiac activity is noted in the fetus, usually at about six weeks of gestational age, which is before many women know they’re pregnant. 

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Sophie Quinton

Sophie Quinton writes about fiscal and economic policy for Stateline. Previously, she wrote for National Journal.