A leaked draft opinion suggests the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion throughout the country.
While states have been anticipating such a decision for years, the draft opinion in a case from Mississippi is the clearest indication yet that abortion access in the U.S. will depend on where you live. The draft has been confirmed as authentic by Chief Justice John Roberts, but it’s important to note that it is not yet final. It could change before being handed down by the nine-member court.
Meanwhile, polling shows a majority of the public favors abortion being legal in most or all cases.
Here are some background details — and potential questions — you can use in your own reporting on abortion in your state.
STATE LAW OVERVIEW
A total of 22 states already have laws on the books that would ban abortion completely or very early in a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that is pro-abortion rights but generally has the most up-to-date legislative data.
The laws fall into three basic categories: Unenforced abortion bans passed before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973; bans that have been passed but blocked in court under Roe; and so-called trigger bans that are designed to take effect if Roe is overturned.
At least eight states have passed anti-abortion restrictions this year: Arizona, Idaho, Florida, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming, Kentucky and Tennessee. Some of those laws have no exceptions for rape or incest.
At least two states, Michigan and Wisconsin, have only state laws banning abortion that were passed before Roe and could take effect if the decision is overturned. The Michigan governor is suing to reverse that state’s ban.
Several states have overlapping laws. Here is an overview of abortion bans from the Guttmacher Institute: https://bityl.co/C3sp.
Sixteen states have placed protections for abortion access in state law, though they do take slightly different forms. An overview of those laws can be found here: https://bityl.co/C3sw
At least eight states have moved to strengthen existing protections or expand abortion access this year: California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut.
— Take care in describing positions on the issue: The AP Stylebook recommends using the modifiers anti-abortion or abortion-rights. Don’t use pro-life, pro-choice or pro-abortion unless they are in quotes or proper names. Avoid abortionist, which connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions.
— Further on style, phrasing such as pregnant people or people who seek an abortion seeks to include people who have those experiences but do not identify as women, such as some transgender men and some nonbinary people. Such phrasing should be confined to stories that specifically address the experiences of people who do not identify as women.
— Reach out to reproductive rights groups, health care workers, scholars, anti-abortion advocacy organizations and legislative leaders who determine what bills limiting or expanding abortion access advance in your state legislature.
— Talk to women who have had abortions or those who will be the most directly affected by strict limitations or an expansion of abortion access to get a sense of the real-world impacts of the laws in your state.
— In states with abortion bans that could take effect after the Supreme Court ruling, ask whether exceptions exist for rape or incest and what resources are available for women who would no longer have access to abortion services.
— In states seeking to maintain abortion access, ask how access is codified and whether it could be subject to challenge in the future.
— In states where future access is an open question, ask lawmakers on both sides what legislation they plan to introduce and whether legal action is anticipated.
— State and local health departments can provide data on the number of abortions performed over the years and how that has changed. It also is worth asking how the number of abortion clinics in the state has changed over the years.
— If the Supreme Court does overturn Roe, minority women will be disproportionately affected by increased restrictions, according to statistics analyzed by The Associated Press in February. The AP story can be found here: https://apnews.com/article/abortion-us-supreme-court-business-health-race-and-ethnicity-3fff455cce7ef0d8694f5371f805ea18 State and local health departments should have additional statistics.
To help your readers further understand the abortion struggle going on across the country, the following paragraphs can be used:
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the country will be divided into states that allow the procedure and those that ban or greatly restrict it.
Supporters of anti-abortion laws want to reduce the number of women who seek the procedure and discourage them from going to other states. At least 276,000 women terminated their pregnancies outside their home state between 2012 and 2017, according to a 2019 Associated Press analysis of data collected from state reports and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This is particularly true in pockets of the Midwest, South and Mountain West, where the number of women terminating a pregnancy in another state has increased because of a lack of nearby clinics or a desire to travel to a state with less restrictive abortion laws.
When Texas enacted a ban that prohibited the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy, the Oklahoma State Department of Health began reporting a dramatic increase in women crossing the border to get an abortion. Before the Texas ban took effect last year, about 40 women from Texas had abortions performed in Oklahoma each month. That number jumped to 222 Texas women in September and 243 in October, the agency reported.
About 630,000 abortions were reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2019, the latest data available, although information from some states is missing.
More than half of U.S. abortions are now done with pills rather than surgery, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The trend has spiked during the pandemic with the help of telemedicine. In 2020, pills accounted for 54% of all U.S. abortions, up from roughly 44% in 2019.
Americans have nuanced attitudes on the topic. In an AP-NORC poll conducted last June, 61% said abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances in the first trimester of a pregnancy. However, 65% said abortion should usually be illegal in the second trimester and 80% said that about the third trimester. Many Americans said the procedure should be allowable under at least some circumstances even during the second or third trimesters.