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Roe v. Wade overturned, ending 50 years of abortion protections


The U.S. Supreme Court has voted to overturn the federal constitutional right to abortion, which will now leave the issue to be decided on a state-by-state basis.

According to some estimates, about 25 million women of reproductive age will now live in states that ban or severely restrict abortion. Twenty-six states are “certain or likely” to ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.

Thirteen states have so-called trigger laws that will ban abortion almost immediately, while nine other states are now likely to try to enforce near-total bans or severe restrictions that have been blocked by courts pending the outcome of the just-issued decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Four states also have a history or have shown a recent desire to prohibit abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Doctors and others who provide abortion services, or in some states “aid or abet” an abortion, could be fined thousands of dollars or sent to prison.

The court voted in favor of Mississippi and its 2018 law that outlawed abortion after 15 weeks. Jackson Women’s Health, the state’s sole remaining abortion provider, sued to block the law soon after it passed.

The Supreme Court decision is not a surprise, as the justices indicated they were leaning that way during oral arguments in December. The majority’s thoughts were further revealed when a draft of the opinion was leaked to the news outlet Politico on May 2.

In the final opinion, Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

The decision strikes down both precedent-setting rulings that established a right to abortion until the point of viability, long considered to be 24 weeks: Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

Twenty-five medical professional societies – representing OB/GYNs, family medicine doctors, fertility specialists, geneticists, hospitalists, internists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, nurses, nurse practitioners, and midwives – had urged the court to throw out the Mississippi law. And more than 2,500 medical professionals signed on to a petition in June, urging the court to uphold the right to abortion.

The number of abortions has recently increased from what had been a long decline. The Guttmacher Institute estimates there were there were 930,160 abortion procedures in 2020 (compared to 3.6 million births), an 8% increase from 2017. The number does not include self-managed abortions. The organization said the increase was potentially due to expanded Medicaid coverage and reduced access to contraception due to Trump administration policies.

Trigger laws and bans

When trigger laws and new restrictions go into effect, women in the South, Midwest, and Inter-Mountain West will likely have to drive hundreds of miles for an abortion, according to Guttmacher. Women in Louisiana, for instance, would have to drive 660 miles to get to the nearest provider in Illinois.

University of Utah researchers estimated that almost half of women will see a big increase in the distance to abortion care, from a median distance of 39 miles to 113 miles. State bans will disproportionately impact women of color, those living in poverty, and people with less education, they said.

The CDC has reported that Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.

Doctors and other abortion providers could face serious penalties. The maximum penalty in Texas is life in prison, and the sentence could be 10 to 15 years in 11 other states, according to an article in the medical journal JAMA by attorneys Rebecca B. Reingold and Lawrence O. Gostin.

“Threats of prosecution undermine clinicians’ ability to provide safe, evidence-based care and to counsel patients honestly, impeding the patient-physician relationship,” they wrote. “Given harsh penalties, physicians may cease treating pregnancy loss, with no clear line between treating miscarriages and abortions.”

In preparing for these attacks on patients and doctors, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on June 13 signed a bill that immediately protects anyone who has an abortion and medical professionals in the state who provide them from legal retaliation by states that restrict or prohibit abortion.

Even while Roe was still the law, Mississippi had banned most abortions after 20 weeks, and 16 states prohibited abortion after 22 weeks. A Texas ban on abortion after 6 weeks – which also allows private citizens to sue abortion providers – was allowed to stay in place while it was being challenged.

On May 26, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill banning abortion from the moment of conception. Just as in Texas, the Oklahoma law allows what critics have called “bounty hunting” of abortion providers.

Four states have a constitutional amendment declaring that the state constitution does not secure or protect the right to abortion or allow the use of public funds for abortion: Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, and West Virginia.


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