With the Supreme Court set to hear arguments on two high-profile abortion cases later this year, many are beginning to question what would happen if the Court overturned or severely curtailed the abortion access rights that were laid out in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
A report released on Thursday by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health care advocacy organization, reveals that consequences could be dire for millions of people seeking abortions in the future.
The Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, is set to hear two cases on abortion restrictions imposed by states. In November, the Court will hear a case relating to Texas’s six-week abortion ban, which has thus far evaded judicial review due to a unique and strategic enforcement method that incentivizes private citizens to sue abortion providers for sums of $10,000. In December, the Court will hear a case involving a Mississippi law that banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy; the state’s Attorney General Lynn Fitch has presented this case as a direct challenge to the Roe decision.
If either of those cases result in Roe being undone, abortion access across the country would be curtailed drastically — but the report from the Guttmacher Institute details just how devastating this decision could be.
According to the report, 26 states across the U.S. are certain to effectively ban abortion if Roe is overturned. As it stands right now, nine states continue to have abortion bans on the books from before Roe was decided, and those laws would go back into effect if the Supreme Court undoes the ruling from almost 50 years ago. Another 12 states have “trigger” laws in place, statutes that automatically ban abortion as soon as the federal government ends enforcement of Roe, while five states have a “near-total” ban on abortion that would also be enacted, the report says.
In all likelihood, those states wouldn’t be alone in curtailing abortion, the organization warned.
“Beyond the 26 states certain or likely to attempt to ban abortion immediately, other states have demonstrated hostility toward abortion by adopting multiple restrictions in the past, but are not likely to ban abortion in the near future,” the Guttmacher Institute report said. “However, this analysis may change in the next few years.”
A total overturning of Roe is unnecessary for curtailing abortion access right away. Eleven states, not including Texas, currently have a six-week ban on abortion on the books that isn’t being enforced but could be, depending on the Court’s future ruling.
The outcome of a ruling ending or severely limiting Roe’s protections would be devastating, affecting around 36 million individuals of reproductive age who would have to travel to neighboring states or beyond to undergo what is a safe and routine medical procedure.
The report noted that a person seeking an abortion may have to travel hundreds of miles just to reach an abortion clinic.
“You’re talking about people in Texas and Mississippi traveling vast distances, not just trying to cross the border, but trying to go through multiple states in order to access care,” said Elizabeth Nash, the principal policy associate for state issues at the Guttmacher Institute. “The distances will take you days to access an abortion and return home.”
A person in Texas would have to travel up to 525 miles to get an abortion, while a person in Mississippi might have to go as many as 428 miles to the nearest provider, in a state where the dismantling of Roe would not threaten abortion rights. In Florida, a person could have to travel up to 567 miles to get an abortion out of state; in Louisiana, the distance could be as long as 630 miles.
If the Court overturns Roe or enables restrictions on it, the outcome will cause tremendous harm, particularly to underserved groups like low-income people, people of color, and LGBTQ people.
“There can be no compromise on abortion — not at 15 weeks, not at 20 weeks, not in any context — because as this data makes clear, a restriction on abortion anywhere means less access for all, everywhere,” wrote Caroline Reilly, reporting fellow for Rewire News Group, regarding the Guttmacher Institute’s findings.
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