In late 2021, the conservative-majority Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case that is widely expected to reverse the precedent set by Roe v. Wade (1973).
If Roe is effectively overturned, access to safe and legal abortion will be almost exclusively left in the hands of state legislatures – setting reproductive rights back nearly 50 years. In many Republican-controlled states, voter suppression tactics has diluted the ability of voters to enact state policy that reflect their views on abortion care. According to Pew Research, the majority of Americans are in favor of keeping abortion access legal in all or most cases.
In 1973, Roe v. Wade ruled that state abortion bans and laws that significantly interfered with a person’s ability to access an abortion before viability (around 24-weeks of pregnancy), are unconstitutional. In other words, Roe established the legal precedent for first trimester abortion rights, but it didn’t enshrine abortion access into federal law.
The Court’s decision was later reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, and again in Stenberg v. Carhart in 2000. However, the anti-choice movement and their conservative allies have persisted in their ideological crusade to control women’s bodies and reproductive choices.
When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away in late 2020, former President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress replaced her with an outspoken critic of abortion: Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Justice Barrett’s confirmation cemented a nearly unbreakable conservative majority within the Supreme Court.
With the Supreme Court secured, the anti-choice movement has leveled up its assault against reproductive rights at the state level, introducing more than 500 bills in the last year.
In 2022, the Court will announce its decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, where it will decide the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. If the ban is upheld, the precedent set by Roe would be effectively nullified, allowing Republican-led state legislatures to institute complete abortion bans without exceptions for rape or abuse victims.
That’s why progressive representation within state legislatures is vital to protecting abortion access and bodily autonomy.
From the time Roe was decided in 1973 to June 2021, more than 1,313 restrictions were placed on abortion procedures. But conservative state legislatures kicked into high gear in 2021, introducing more restrictions and barriers than ever.
2021 has already been deemed the “worst legislative year ever for US abortion rights.”
2021 saw more than 600 anti-choice bills being advanced in 48 states and 90 restrictive bills in 26 states going into effect thus far; more than any year since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.
Texas has become the latest poster child for near-total abortion bans, after SB-8 went into effect in September 2021.
Republican Governor Gregg Abbott, a longtime Trump ally, pushed hard for SB-8. The law bans abortions as early as 5 weeks; before most people know they are pregnant.
The law allows any private citizen in any state to sue anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion for a settlement up to $10,000, effectively putting a bounty on providers and those who provide support. Anti-choice organizations even set up reporting hotlines and websites in hopes of funneling complaints to the courts to shut down abortion services indefinitely.
The expected onslaught of litigation against abortion providers and staff is expected, and designed, to shut down every provider in the state. Doing so would force people in need of care to nearby states, increasing the distance they need to travel for care by nearly 20 times – from an average of 12 miles one way, to an average distance of 248 miles one way.
The added distance creates significant geographical and financial barriers due to the increase in cost for travel and care, disproportionately impacting marginalized and low-income communities who cannot afford the financial cost or travel time.
After nearly a month of being in effect, a federal district court judge blocked SB-8 from being enforced, only to be reinstated soon after. Unfortunately, the law is written such that if the law is suspended, anyone who performs or aids an abortion can still be retroactively sued once the law is back in place.
However, even anti-choice advocates are concerned that the law’s tricky methods of enforcement could be used to degrade other rights.
Jackson Women’s Health is the only abortion provider in the state of Mississippi, meaning some people must travel more than four hours each way to visit the facility. In addition to long travel distances, Republican lawmakers in the state mandated two separate office visits for an initial “information session” that must include misleading, scientifically unproven claims regarding the procedure to scare patients, followed by a 24-hour waiting period before the procedure can proceed.
Effectively, the lack of providers plus the 24-hour waiting period means that patients must either live nearby, be able to afford overnight accommodations and time off, or be able to make the drive multiple times before the deadline. These restrictions disproportionately affect people of color and low-income communities.
In addition to being one of the most hostile states toward abortion rights, Mississippi is home to the upcoming Supreme Court case that will determine the future of abortion access in the country; Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. The case will determine if the state’s 15-week abortion ban, which has already been struck down by lower courts, is constitutional. If the conservative Supreme Court ignores all legal precedent and scientific evidence to side with Mississippi’s abortion ban, it would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade and open the floodgates for even more restrictive state laws and total bans throughout the nation, even in instances of rape and abuse.
In 2021, the Tennessee state legislature made it legal for medical providers to withhold medical information from a patient about her pregnancy if the provider suspects she might get an abortion. The state’s ultra-conservative Governor Bill Lee was signed SB-1370, which also defined personhood as starting at “fertilization,” setting the stage for abortion to be legally on par with criminal homicide, while also robbing women of the ability to trust medical providers or make fully informed decisions about that impact their health, economic stability, and future.
Governor Lee, who was endorsed by President Trump, also signed HB-1181, which requires fetal tissue to be buried or cremated, thereby increasing the cost and burden to both women in need of service and providers with an additional $150-$350 per procedure. Lee’s fellow party members in the state legislature also introduced SB-0494, which allows men, including rapists and abusers, to legally block a person from obtaining an abortion, without any legal requirement for the man stopping the abortion to provide financial, medical, or child support.
So-called “trigger laws” are a tactic deployed by the GOP to preemptively ban abortions at the state level. The laws mean that if Roe is overturned, a ban on abortion would automatically “trigger,” or go into effect.
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Wisconsin
Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah
Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee
4 states have state constitutional amendments that explicitly state they do not protect nor secure rights to abortion:
TRAP laws, or targeted regulation of abortion providers, are medically unnecessary requirements placed on abortion providers under the guise of protecting women’s health. The true aim of these bills is to shut down legal providers of abortion by regulating them out of business.
For example, Republican-led states often require abortion providers to have hospital admittance privileges to nearby hospitals, which requires the doctor to admit a certain number of patients to the hospital for care every year to maintain those privileges. However, a legal abortion performed by medical providers has been proven to be an extremely safe procedure, with complications being so rare that providers are often unable to meet the minimum patient admittance to maintain their hospital privileges.
Because abortion providers also often provide related reproductive healthcare services like family planning tools, birth control, and STI testing, fewer clinics mean less access to those services as well, often disproportionately impacting communities of color.
Republican lawmakers claim that TRAP laws are aimed at protecting the safety and health of women, flying in the face of scientific evidence that abortion is twice as safe as getting a penicillin shot and nearly 14 times safer than giving birth.
Examples of TRAP tactics:
In 2019, the Journal of Women’s Health published a study that looked into the distances women traveled to access abortion services. They found that more than 1 in 5 women traveled 50+ miles each way to obtain an abortion, with the majority citing it as the closest provider available to them.
Additionally, white college-educated women who live outside of metro areas were most likely to travel farthest, highlighting the barriers and lack of options faced by low-income women of color in obtaining abortion care.
Being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy is a greater risk to one’s health than the abortion procedure itself, with women of color are at greater risk of pregnancy-related complications and death. According to the CDC, maternal mortality rates have been steadily increasing since the 1980s, with a rate of 17.3 deaths per 100,000 as of 2017. Of those deaths, an astounding 42% were Black or African American women and 28% were Indigenous women, accounting for more than 70% of all maternal deaths.
With the potential for Roe to be overturned, progressive state leaders have been passing bills actively protecting abortion access.
12 States and D.C. protect a person’s right to an abortion:
After flipping the state legislature in 2019, Virginia Democrats passed the Reproductive Health Protection Act, which effectively overturned two decades of anti-choice and TRAP laws that created medically unnecessary barriers to reproductive care, including abortion.
People in Virginia are now able to access safe, legal abortion care in one visit, without mandatory waiting periods, biased counseling, or medically unnecessary tests or ultrasounds. By removing unnecessary waiting periods and unnecessary tests, the financial barriers that disproportionately prevent low-income women from receiving abortion care were removed.
Known as progressive havens, Oregon and Vermont both protected reproductive rights and abortion access by enacting a Freedom of Choice Act. The law protects access to first-trimester abortions even if Roe is overturned.
The states both expanded access to abortion care by allowing more medical providers, such as nurse practitioners, to offer services. To further reduce the financial barriers that disproportionately prevent marginalized women from accessing care, both states also provide support services for low-income individuals.
In 2018, Washington State passed the Reproductive Parity Act in an effort to protect reproductive rights, including abortion, as well as work to reduce financial barriers to care. The act required health insurance companies to cover all FDA-approved birth control methods, rather than allowing businesses to decide what contraception they would cover which did not account for individual medical needs. It also requires that maternity care include access and coverage of abortion procedures.
Even in GOP-controlled states, progressive representatives are fighting back and making meaningful strides.
During a 2013 special legislative session in Texas, the Republican-dominated legislature was blocked from passing an omnibus anti-abortion bill filled with TRAP laws that would have shut down nearly all the abortion providers in the state. Democratic State Senators filibustered the bill for 13 hours straight, with Sen. Wendy Davis filibustering for nearly all of that time. A record in Texas until August 12th of 2021, when Democratic Senator Carol Alvarado filibustered a voter suppression bill for 15 hours straight.
Representative Ann Johnson joins Sister District Executive Director Lala Wu to discuss what’s at stake in Texas and why she chose to be one of the leading voices in the Texas walkout.
With a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, there is a very real possibility Roe v. Wade will be struck down. Learn what’s at stake for protecting access to reproductive healthcare in Virginia and throughout the country.
We’ve always known that a conservative-majority Supreme Court would threaten abortion rights. Still, we know that state legislators have power, for good and for ill.
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