Is abortion illegal in the U.S. now? Depends where you live

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had provided a constitutional right to abortion. The ruling is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states, although the timing of those laws taking effect varies.

Some Republican-led states will ban or severely limit abortion immediately, while other restrictions will take effect later. At least one state, Texas, is waiting until after the Supreme Court issues its formal judgment in the case, which is separate from the opinion issued Friday and could take about a month.

In anticipation of the decision, several states led by Democrats have taken steps to protect abortion access. The decision also sets up the potential for legal fights between the states over whether providers and those who help women obtain abortions can be sued or prosecuted.

Here is an overview of abortion legislation and the expected impact of the court’s decision in every state.

ALABAMA

Political control: Alabama has a Republican-controlled legislature and a Republican governor who want to ban or restrict access to abortions.

Background: In 2019, Alabama lawmakers approved what was then the most stringent abortion ban in the country, making it a felony to perform an abortion at any stage of pregnancy with no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. The only exception would be when the woman’s health was at serious risk. A federal judge issued an injunction, under the precedent of Roe v. Wade, blocking the state from enforcing the law. In 2018, voters agreed to amend the Alabama Constitution to say the state recognizes the “rights of unborn children” and “does not protect the right to an abortion or require the funding of abortion.” A 1951 law made it a crime, punishable by up to 12 months in prison, to induce an abortion, unless it is done to preserve the life or health of the mother.

Effect of Supreme Court ruling: Abortions became almost entirely illegal in Alabama on Friday. A 2019 state abortion ban took effect making it a felony to perform an abortion at any stage of pregnancy, with no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. All three clinics stopped providing abortions Friday morning under fear of prosecution under the 1951 state law. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson hours later granted Alabama’s request to lift an injunction and allow the state to enforce the 2019 abortion ban. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said it is now a felony to provide an abortion in Alabama beyond the one exception allowed in the 2019 law, which is for the sake of the mother’s health. Doctors who violate the law could face up to 99 years in prison. Marshall said the state would also move to lift other injunctions that blocked previous abortion restrictions, including a requirement for doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges.

What’s next: Some Republican lawmakers have said they would like to see the state replace the 2019 ban with a slightly less stringent bill that would allow exceptions in cases of rape or incest. Proponents said the 2019 ban was deliberately strict in the hopes of sparking a court challenge to Roe.

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GEORGIA

Political control: Georgia has a Republican legislature and governor who support abortion restrictions, but all are up for election this November. Republicans are likely to retain legislative control, but there’s a possibility a Democrat could become governor.

Background: Georgia lawmakers in 2019 passed a law by one vote that would ban most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, when fetal cardiac activity can be detected. The measure is unlike other “heartbeat” bills in that it also contains language designating a fetus as a person for certain state-law purposes such as income tax deductions and child support. The measure is on hold before the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals awaiting a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Mississippi case.

Effect of Supreme Court ruling: The 11th Circuit is likely to allow the six-week ban to take effect relatively quickly, having already heard oral arguments in the case, although there could be fresh legal challenges. That would ban the large majority of abortions that currently take place in Georgia – about 87% according to providers. The change could happen in the middle of tightly contested races in Georgia for governor and U.S. Senate. Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and challenger for governor Stacey Abrams say they want to secure abortion rights. Republican Senate challenger Herschel Walker and incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp support restrictions.

What’s next: Some Republican lawmakers and candidates want Georgia to go further and ban abortion entirely, but Kemp is unlikely to call a special session before this November’s general election. Lawmakers are likely to consider further action when they return for their annual session in January. The Legislature or courts will have to sort out whether the provisions designating a fetus as a person are workable.

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NORTH CAROLINA

Political control: Republicans hold majorities in the state House and Senate, but the party lacks the margins to defeat a veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, a strong abortion-rights supporter. Since 2017, Cooper has vetoed a “born-alive” abortion measure and a bill prohibiting abortion based on race or a Down syndrome diagnosis. He can’t seek reelection in 2024 due to term limits.

Background: A 1973 North Carolina law that banned most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy is currently unenforceable after federal judges struck it down as unconstitutional in 2019 and 2021. Instead, abortions can be performed until fetal viability. A state law approved in 2015 provides for post-viability abortions only in a “medical emergency,” which means the woman would die or face a “serious risk” of substantial and irreversible physical impairment without the procedure.

Effect of Supreme Court ruling: Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, the 20-week ban could be restored. Legal experts say formal action would have to be taken to cancel the earlier court rulings striking it down. Republican legislative leaders late Friday asked state Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat and abortion rights supporter whose agency’s lawyers defended the 20-week law, to act. Otherwise, they said they would seek to intervene.

What’s next: Republican General Assembly leaders don’t plan to consider additional abortion restrictions during the soon-to-end legislative session, meaning a likely intensification of electoral efforts to gain the five additional seats the GOP needs to reach veto-proof margins come 2023. Cooper and other Democrats already are making abortion rights a key campaign pitch. Abortion politics are also expected to figure in two state Supreme Court seat elections in November. Republicans would gain a majority on the court if they win at least one of them.

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TENNESSEE

Political control: Tennessee has a Republican governor who is consistently vocal about his opposition to abortion. The GOP holds a supermajority in the state legislature and has steadily chipped away at abortion access.

Background: In 2020, Tennessee passed a law banning most abortions when the fetal heartbeat can be detected at about six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant. The measure has never been enforced because it was promptly blocked by a federal court. Tennessee voters approved an amendment in 2014 declaring that the state’s constitution doesn’t protect or secure the right to abortion or require the funding of an abortion, and empowering state lawmakers to “enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion.” State law also doesn’t allow providers to dispense abortion medications through telemedicine consultations. There are six abortion providers in Tennessee.

Effect of Supreme Court ruling: Thirty days after the decision, a so-called trigger law will go into effect that bans all abortions in Tennessee except when necessary to prevent death or “serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” Doctors could be charged with a felony for providing an abortion under this law.

What’s next: It’s unclear if the trigger law conflicts with the 2020 law banning most abortions at about six weeks. The state’s attorney general, a Republican, has not publicly weighed in. Meanwhile, Republicans are expected to continue to have supermajority control after this year’s midterm elections. Reproductive rights activists say they will direct patients seeking abortion to clinics in Illinois if Roe v. Wade is overturned, or to Florida, which would ban abortions at 15 weeks. North Carolina and Virginia could also be options for women in eastern Tennessee.

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