Pro-life demonstrators hold signs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as they await its decision on the legality of a Republican-backed Louisiana law that imposes restrictions on abortion doctors in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2020.
Kevin Lemarque | Reuters
Several U.S. states immediately banned abortion on Friday in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, dividing the nation between jurisdictions where the procedure is legal and where it is outlawed.
The high court’s decision ended a half-century of constitutionally protected abortion rights, which means that states will now be allowed to regulate the procedure.
At least 13 states have laws on the books that either ban abortion immediately or will do so soon.
Abortion bans in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Alabama went into immediate effect. The laws make performing an abortion a felony punishable by years-long prison sentences. They do not make exceptions for rape or incest. However, women cannot be prosecuted for receiving an abortion under the laws.
Wisconsin has a 19th-Century law on the books banning nearly all abortions, but the state’s Democratic governor and attorney general said they will not enforce it. Doctors in Wisconsin, however, reportedly stopped providing abortions following the Supreme Court’s decision.
On the West Coast, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington vowed to expand access to abortion and protect women who come to their states in need of the procedure.
Read the reactions to Roe v. Wade being overturned
Anyone who performs an abortion in Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma faces 10 years in prison unless the procedure is done to save the life of the pregnant woman. Arkansas and Louisiana also make exceptions for physicians to end ectopic pregnancies or treat miscarriages.
In Missouri, anyone who performs an abortion would face up to a 15-year jail sentence, unless the procedure is done in the case of a medical emergency.
Pro-choice supporters and staff of Planned Parenthood hold a rally outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center in St. Louis, Missouri, May 31, 2019, the last location in the state performing abortions.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
In Kentucky, anyone who performs an abortion would face up to five years in prison. The law makes exceptions to save the life of the pregnant woman or procedures by physicians that result in the unintentional end of a pregnancy. Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, condemned the law as extremist.
Any person who performs an abortion in South Dakota now faces up to two years in prison, unless the procedure is performed to protect the life of the mother.
Idaho, Tennessee and Texas will implement abortion bans in 30 days, according to the text of the laws. Abortion bans in Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming go into effect after the attorney general, governor or certain legislative bodies certify that the Supreme Court has done away with Roe.
On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Department of Justice will protect women who travel from states with bans to receive abortions in states where the procedure is legal.
“Few rights are more central to individual freedom than the right to control one’s own body, Garland said. “The Justice Department will use every tool at our disposal to protect reproductive freedom. And we will not waver from this Department’s founding responsibility to protect the civil rights of all Americans.”
Abortion pill next flashpoint
States banning abortion are also outlawing the use of the abortion pill to end pregnancies. However, women cannot be punished for receiving abortions under the laws, which means many people may turn to online pharmacies based abroad to have pills delivered to their homes.
Boxes of the medication Mifepristone used to induce a medical abortion are prepared for patients at Planned Parenthood health center in Birmingham, Alabama, March 14, 2022.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
The abortion pill, mifepristone, is approved in the U.S. to end pregnancies before the 10th week of pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration first approved the medication in 2000, but required women to obtain it in person under a program that monitors certain drugs for safety risks. Abortion rights advocates fiercely criticized the FDA requirements, arguing that mifepristone had a long and proven track record as a safe and effective way to end an early pregnancy.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic last year, the FDA temporarily lifted the requirement that women obtain the pill in person. In December, the agency permanently ended the in-person requirement, which will allow certified pharmacies in the U.S. to fill and send prescriptions by mail.
Garland said states cannot ban mifepristone based on disagreements with FDA’s judgment that the medication is safe and effective. U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said his department will use “every lever” to protect access to abortion care including with the pill.
Medication abortion has become increasingly common in the U.S. More than half of abortions in the U.S. are with the pill, according to a survey by the Guttmacher Institute of all known providers in the U.S.
Although the state bans do not punish women who receive abortions, there are cases where people have been reported to authorities for trying to end their pregnancies.
In April, a woman in South Texas was charged with murder after allegedly having a self-induced abortion. The district attorney ultimately dismissed the indictment, saying it is clear that she “cannot and should not be prosecuted for the allegation against her.”