What happens if Roe v. Wade is overturned and abortion outlawed?
A leaked Supreme Court draft opinion suggests the court is preparing to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.
Cody Godwin, Associated Press
- If Roe v. Wade is overturned, anti-abortion groups say they would shift focus to an array of other policy goals.
- Some advocates say they’d work on restricting access to pregnancy-ending medication.
- Others plan to pursue strategies to challenge local prosecutors who have said they won’t enforce anti-abortion laws.
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, received a text from a friend Monday night, minutes after a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court was made public.
“It caught everyone off guard,” said Tobias, head of the nation’s largest anti-abortion organization. “I hope it’s true, but we’re just not going to assume anything until the final decision actually comes out.”
National anti-abortion advocacy groups, local organizations and independent activists say the bombshell leak may reinvigorate ongoing state-level legislation campaigns and allow activists to pivot the abortion battle to several new fronts.
“Our focus remains the same, but our strategy must somewhat shift,” said anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson. “We will continue to fight to make abortion illegal in every state across this country.”
Shockwaves reverberated around the nation Monday night when Politico reported it had obtained a draft opinion suggesting the court was considering a ruling that would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established a constitutional right to abortion.
WHAT HAPPENS IF ROE IS OVERTURNED? What we know about the leaked draft
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Demonstrators gathered outside the Supreme Court on Monday and Tuesday to condemn the draft, warning the move would immediately make most abortions illegal in more than a dozen states, and disproportionately affect people of color and low-income Americans.
In response, Democratic leaders have called for lawmakers to pass legislation to codify abortion rights and urged voters to elect supporters of abortion rights. Some Republican lawmakers have cheered the draft opinion.
“It’s a decision that we’ve prayed for and hoped for for years,” said Addia Wuchner, the executive director of Kentucky Right to Life. “So we do pray that this holds true.”
Wuchner said her group supported Kentucky’s recent passage of some of the nation’s more restrictive abortion laws now facing legal challenges. She noted that if Roe falls, Kentucky’s 2019 “trigger law” would immediately end abortions.
Wuchner said her group would then seek to restrict access to pregnancy-ending medication as well as work to expand support for adoption and pregnancy aid. She predicted support would increase – her office’s phones hadn’t stopped ringing Tuesday, she said.
Polling suggests a majority of U.S. adults have long said abortion should be legal in at least some cases. A majority also support the Supreme Court upholding Roe v. Wade, a Washington Post-ABC News poll published Tuesday found. The poll, conducted last week, found 54% of Americans support upholding Roe, while 28% support overturning it.
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John Seago, the legislative director for Texas Right to Life, said that if the draft opinion holds, his group would focus on an array of new goals, which may include pursuing ways to stop the more than 60 prosecutors who said in 2020 they won’t enforce laws criminalizing abortion.
The group, Fair and Just Prosecution, called this week for more prosecutors to make a similar pledge.
Seago also cited expanding to other states a controversial Texas law that allows any private individual to sue abortion providers or people who aid in an abortion. Stopping corporations from paying for abortion-related expenses and travel is another priority, along with expanding support for pregnant people, such as supporting college students who are pregnant, Seago said.
“Everybody is very positive,” he said. “They are seeing that this is evidence of the court headed in the direction that our movement has been working for since Roe itself. So this is really a historical moment for the movement.”
WHICH STATES? If Roe v. Wade is overturned, here’s how abortion laws in each state will stand
Daniel Williams, a historian of the anti-abortion movement, said the possible end of Roe would likely be more of an exacerbation of current trends rather than the creation of an entirely new era in abortion policy.
“The number of abortion clinics has rapidly declined in conservative regions in the South and Midwest, and abortion availability therefore differs more widely by region than it has at any point since Roe was decided,” Williams said, noting multiple states have recently passed laws restricting abortion. “One might well ask whether we have entered a pre-Roe era even before the Supreme Court officially strikes down Roe.”
Karissa Haugeberg, a Tulane University associate professor who studies the contemporary U.S. anti-abortion movement, predicted an overturning of Roe would generally embolden wider anti-abortion efforts.
Haugeberg said she wouldn’t be surprised if anti-abortion groups boycott companies that offer abortion-related benefits to employees and work to restrict various forms of birth control. Rather than resolving the issue, she said, a decision to overturn Roe “is going to inflame the debate.”
In the near future, anti-abortion groups are focusing on combating misinformation about what the U.S. abortion landscape would look like post-Roe, Tobias said.
“Those who are deadly serious about keeping abortion legal are already putting out the false take that abortion will be illegal in the country if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade,” Tobias said. “If they do overturn that decision, what it means is that we will have 50 states making laws by representatives elected by the people.”
Nearly half of U.S. states already have laws in place that would take effect immediately upon a Supreme Court ruling. Another 16 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws explicitly protecting abortion rights if Roe v. Wade is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and policy organization.
Penny Nance, CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, an evangelical Christian organization, said her group has been preparing for the court to overturn Roe by compiling informational resources for each state.
“Our work has just begun,” Nance said.
Meanwhile, March for Life is working to rally grassroots organizations around anti-abortion policies through a growing network of state programs, said organization president Jeanne Mancini.
“The Court should issue its final decision swiftly. We are prepared to continue the lofty work of making abortion unthinkable in our country,” she said.