For decades, conservatives have fought to end abortion killings in the United States by defunding Planned Parenthood.
Now, under President-elect Donald Trump, victory may be at hand.
Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide, is in serious jeopardy under Trump’s presidency. If a reconfigured high court did overturn it, there’s a very real chance that abortions could be completely outlawed once and for all.
However, the likely outcome would be a patchwork map: some states protecting abortion access, others enacting tough bans, and many struggling over what new limits they might impose.
Trump, who will have at least one Supreme Court vacancy to fill, has pledged to appoint “pro-life” justices who potentially would be open to weakening or reversing Roe. With one seat vacant, the high court now has a 5-3 majority supporting abortion rights, and thus one of those five would need to vacate his or her seat to give the court an anti-abortion majority.
Trump broached that possibility in an interview aired Sunday night on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” suggesting that a reversal of Roe would return the matter to the states, leaving it up to their legislatures to decide the future of abortion access.
Asked about the likelihood that some women would face abortion bans in their states, Trump replied, “Well, they’ll perhaps have to go, they’ll have to go to another state.”
Supporters of abortion concurred with that analysis.
“If Roe were overturned, we would likely return to a patchwork quilt of laws, which would force women onto the road even more than at present,” said Dr. David Grimes, a North Carolina obstetrician-gynecologist.
Anti-abortion leader Clark Forsythe, acting president and senior counsel for Americans United For Life, predicted that the states would break into three basic categories if Roe were overturned: Perhaps a dozen states would continue to make abortion widely accessible, another dozen or so would ban virtually all abortions unless the mother’s life were at stake, and roughly two-dozen more states would thrash out their response with debate among the public and in the legislatures. Forsythe suggested that some of those states might allow abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy, while restricting or banning later abortions.
Among the states likely to maintain full access to abortion are those on the Pacific Coast and in the Northeast. South-central and southeastern states would be among those likely to impose bans, potentially leaving women in a huge, contiguous chunk of the United States with no nearby access to abortion providers.
“For many women, it’s not possible to traverse across multiple state lines,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This could have tragic consequences.”
In the decades since the Roe decision, several states have kept or added anti-abortion laws that could take effect immediately if the ruling were overturned.
Among them is Wisconsin. Nicole Safar, director of government relations for the state’s Planned Parenthood affiliate, said a statute has been on the books since 1849 making it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion in Wisconsin. Abortion is likely to remain legal in neighboring Illinois, but Safar said even that trip might be out of reach for many low-income women in Wisconsin.
Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, said a reconfigured Supreme Court might address an abortion case by leaving some aspects of Roe in place, but chipping away at it to allow a broader range of restrictions.
“It’s not so easy to overturn Roe,” she said.
Anti-abortion leader Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List also predicted that a “chipping away” of Roe might be more likely than its total reversal. She said Congress was likely to pass a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and states would feel more emboldened in passing tough anti-abortion laws.
“Roe is already in shambles,” she said.
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said Roe’s eventual demise would mean even brighter prospects for state anti-abortion legislation.
“Our state affiliates have been working to pass laws, but they run up against Roe,” she said. “If Roe were overturned, it would allow us to fight in each state.”
Professor Michael New, an abortion opponent who teaches economics at Ave Maria University in Florida, said he would welcome a reversal of Roe even if abortion policy in many states remained unchanged.
“It would restart a serious debate about sanctity of life issues in the United States,” he wrote in an email. “This is a debate that pro-lifers welcome.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article