Jun 24, 2022
The effects of Friday's U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade were felt almost instantaneously when patients who were scheduled to receive abortions from clinics in trigger-ban states were turned away within minutes of the 6-3 ruling.
More than half of all U.S. states are now poised to end or drastically restrict legal access to abortions. In the 13 states with "trigger bans" that were designed to take effect as soon as the high court's right-wing majority struck down Roe, abortion will be outlawed within 30 days, though in some cases patients were immediately denied care.
"In many states," the Washington Postreported, "trigger bans will activate as soon as a designated state official certifies the decision, which Republican lawmakers expect to happen within minutes."
According to the newspaper:
When the decision came down shortly after 10 am ET, many of the clinics in trigger-ban states were filled with patients scheduled to receive abortion care. Administrators had to confront busy waiting rooms and inform patients that they could no longer legally perform the procedure, distributing lists of out-of-state clinics hundreds of miles away, aware that many of their patients will not be able to travel that far.
Once all the trigger laws take effect, patients in Texas will have to drive an average of 542 miles to reach the nearest abortion clinic, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization. For patients in Louisiana, the one-way trip will be 666 miles. In Mississippi, 495 miles.
From the time Texas' draconian six-week abortion ban went into effect in September until the end of last year, Planned Parenthood clinics in surrounding states saw a nearly 800% increase in abortion patients from Texas compared with the same time period in 2020.
"A large portion of patients were able to get out of the state, with support from a nationwide network of abortion rights advocates who helped them pay for gas, hotels, and child care," the Post reported. "But in the next few months, as funds dry up and clinics in Democratic-led states are overwhelmed, fewer patients will have access to that option."
In pre-Roe America, "hundreds of thousands of people obtained abortions illegally every year, with estimates ranging from 200,000 to 1.2 million," the newspaper noted. "Experts estimate that hundreds of women died from complications annually."
Medication--now used for a majority of abortions nationwide--makes obtaining an illegal abortion easier and safer. According to the Post: "Aid Access, an Austrian-based organization run by Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts, mails abortion pills to all 50 states, including over a dozen states that have banned abortion by mail. Their orders from Texas increased by over 1,000% when the state enacted its six-week ban."
Still, a post-Roe America means that some people will be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or seek out dangerous methods to terminate pregnancies, with deadly consequences.
After the 13 trigger-ban states outlaw abortion in the coming days, "several other states where recent anti-abortion legislation has been blocked by the courts are expected to act next, with lawmakers moving to activate their dormant legislation," the Postnoted. "A handful of states also have pre-Roe abortion bans that could be brought back to life."
All told, the Guttmacher Institute expects most or all abortions, except in cases where the life of the mother is at risk, to be prohibited in 26 states within weeks or months, with no exceptions for rape or incest in several states.
Some right-wing lawmakers, including Louisiana Republicans, have advanced legislation that would allow prosecutors to charge abortion patients and providers with homicide over a procedure that is key to women's independence and equality.
Legal experts have warned that the GOP's war on reproductive freedom "will create a novel world of complicated, interjurisdictional legal conflicts over abortion."
David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University, toldBloomberg Law last month that imposing forced-pregnancy laws on other states is "the next frontier in anti-abortion legislation."
Overturning Roe is "going to be an invitation to states to innovate in restricting and banning abortion," said Cohen. "There are going to be a number of states [that] are not satisfied with just knowing that there's no abortion happening in their own state. They're going to want to do more than that."
Missouri state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-97) is already attempting to bar pregnant people from leaving the state to get an abortion, as thousands of residents have done since Republican Gov. Mike Parson enacted a ban in 2019.
The GOP lawmaker's proposal would allow private citizens to sue anyone who performs or helps a Missouri resident obtain an out-of-state abortion. It is modeled after S.B. 8, the devastating Texas law that rewards vigilantes with at least $10,000 each time they successfully sue a person who provides or helps someone access an abortion after six weeks.
According to Bloomberg Law: "Some legal scholars think any attempt to stop people from leaving the state for an abortion would be unlawful since the Constitution protects individual liberty and gives people the right to travel. There's also a legal doctrine called the Dormant Commerce Clause that prevents states from discriminating against or unduly burdening interstate commerce."
But it remains unclear if the federal judiciary will agree.
"Unfortunately, there's no real clear precedent on this issue," said Cohen. "A particularly anti-abortion court like we have at the U.S. Supreme Court, I think, might find enough wiggle room in the past cases to say it's not unconstitutional because states are allowed to have extraterritorial effect of their laws."
Citing Cohen, Bloomberg Law reported that "prosecutors could argue that as long as some part of the crime took place in the state, then they are allowed to have jurisdiction and developing the guilty intent to travel may be enough... If a young woman and her best friend decide in Missouri they're traveling to Illinois to get an abortion, the criminal intent has taken place in Missouri."
Interstate legal battles over abortion could become moot if Republicans retake Congress and the White House. The GOP has already begun preparing its push for a federal abortion ban. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who celebrated the high court's elimination of the constitutional right to abortion on Friday, has expressed openness to such legislation.
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