Abortion becomes a state-by-state issue after Roe v Wade overturned

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Supreme Court overturned the 50-year-old landmark Roe v. Wade decision, 6-3, that established a right of personal privacy protected by the Due Process Clause which include the right of a woman to determine whether or not to bear a child. Access to an abortion would now become a state issue, with some states implementing “trigger laws.” 

The nation has erupted in both celebrations and protests. Within moments of the Court’s decision, abortion and pro-life advocates alike clashed outside the Supreme Court Friday, with megaphones and signs representing the split and deeply contentious stance the country takes on a woman’s right to choose. U.S. Capitol Police said protestors are allowed to peacefully demonstrate as long as they follow officer’s directions, however D.C. police will be on “high alert” until Tuesday to ensure the demonstrations don’t get out of hand.

Protests are scheduled to gather later this evening in Seattle, Everett, and other Washington cities.

Local elected officials react

Washington Governor Jay Inslee took to Twitter today to assure Washingtonians the law remains unchanged in their state but the threat of Republicans challenging that remains

“The law remains unchanged in Washington state, but the threat to patient access and privacy has never been more dangerous. Even in Washington state, Republicans have introduced about 40 bills in the past six years to roll back abortion rights and access to reproductive care,” Gov. Inslee said.

“We are going to stand up and fight back with our voices and our votes—to protect the right of every woman to make her own health care decisions. The American people will not forget Republicans’ cruelty—not today, not tomorrow, and not this November,” Senator Patty Murray tweeted Friday.

“This morning the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, taking away a constitutional right from women and their right to choose their health care. This opinion is an egregious attack on the Constitution and women. This Court does not respect precedent or privacy,” Rep. Rick Larsen, tweeted Friday.

“This is a dangerous #SCOTUS decision. An activist conservative court has overruled nearly 50 years of precedence & stripped women in the U.S. of their right to make their own health care decisions. We can’t give up. We have to keep fighting for our rights,” Representative Suzan DelBene tweeted.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a formal statement as well stating “Today the United States Supreme Court adopted an extremist position and overturned 50 years of precedent upon which Americans have relied. This decision will harm individuals across our country by severely restricting access to safe, legal reproductive health care, and it will strain Washington’s health care network as individuals from Idaho and other states come here seeking the health care they require.”

Senate Republican Leader John Braun shared comments in reaction to today’s U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization abortion case, effectively overturning the 1973 case Roe v. Wade.

“Today’s decision does not affect the law here in Washington. Even my Democrat colleagues have been quick to point out that our laws protect access to abortion procedures. However, better support for pregnant women who choose to give birth should be a common goal for all of us, regardless of our politics. Compassion and empathy, rather than hostility, should be the universal approach. I’m hoping this is how we all move forward.”

Where will abortion be accessible?

An abortion procedure may soon depend wholly on the state in which one resides, and each state is already looking to enact different regulations. Thirteen states, including Idaho, Texas, and Utah, have previously passed “trigger laws” which would automatically restrict or ban abortions upon the Supreme Court’s ruling.

While states like Oklahoma have just recently enacted abortion trigger laws, others have had them in place for more than a decade. South Dakota, for example, has had its trigger law ready to go since 2005, which would make abortions illegal in all cases except for when the mother’s life is threatened.

On the flip side, 16 states have already codified abortion policy into law, including California, Vermont, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Of these 16 states, 12 of them explicitly permit abortion when necessary to protect a woman’s life and before fetus viability, while the other 4 protect the right to abortion without state interference.  Florida is planning to ban abortions after 15 weeks beginning July 1.

Abortion will remain available to any pregnant person who lives in or who can travel to these states, however some experts speculate that states may make it illegal to travel to a different state for an abortion in the future.

The removal of Roe protections may also prompt new anti-abortion restrictions in other states without the Supreme Court’s decision standing in the way. So far, in 2022, 1,991 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights have already been introduced across 46 states and the District of Columbia, a report by Guttmacher Institute states.

However, it is unlikely Washington will be one of the states that restrict or prohibit a woman’s right to have an abortion based on Initiative 120 and the Democratic Party controlling the Governor’s Office, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and both chambers of the state legislature.

Just today, King County announced a $1 million emergency fund and Washington state joined a multi-state agreement with California and Oregon to protect women’s abortion rights following the Supreme Court’s decision.

U.S. gestational limits compared globally

Overall in the United States, the law in a vast majority of states permit the termination of a pregnancy no later than the end of the second trimester (14-26 weeks) with 20 or 24 weeks being the preferred limit with exceptions. However, in Mexico, Canada and in European countries, the gestational limits are much less.

Last year, Mexico’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled in September to decriminalize abortion. The procedure is allowed until up to the 12th week of pregnancy (first trimester). 

Currently, there are no Canadian laws that explicitly guarantee access to abortion after is was decriminalized in Canada in 1988 when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a federal law. Across Canadian provinces, abortions are regulated similarly to other health-care procedures and according to a study published by Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights in 2019, no providers in Canada offer abortion services after 23 weeks and six days of pregnancy.

Six European countries retain highly restrictive abortion laws and do not permit abortion on request or on broad social grounds – Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Poland and San Marino. 

While the remaining European countries allow abortions, the most common gestational limit is 12 to 15 weeks (no later than two weeks into the second trimester) with exceptions to the end of the second trimester. Turkey allows for abortions up to 10 weeks and Italy is 90 days with an exception up to 13 weeks. The European countries with the latest gestational limits are Sweden (18 weeks with an expectation up to 22 weeks), Netherlands (24 weeks), and Ireland (22 weeks).

About the Roe v. Wade decision

Roe v. Wade was a landmark decision in the Supreme Court when the court ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction, striking down many state and federal laws, in 1973.

The decision involved the case of Norma McCorvey, better known by her pseudonym “Jane Roe” who in 1969 became pregnant with her third child. McCorvey wanted an abortion but lived in Texas where abortion was illegal. Her attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee filed a lawsuit on her behalf in U.S. federal court against her local district attorney Henry Wade, alleging that Texas abortion laws were unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas heard the case and ruled in McCorvey’s favor and Texas appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In January, 1973, the Supreme Court issued a 7-2 decision ruling in McCorvey’s favor ruling that the Due Process Clause on the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides a “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

Roe v. Wade’s legal rulings were modified by the Supreme Court decision of Casey v. Planned Parenthood in 1992, holding that a woman’s right to choose an abortion is protected by the constitution but abandoning Roe’s trimester restrictions before fetus viability.

Abortion, Washington state and Initiative 120

On November 5, 1991, Washington voters approved initiative 120 (50.4% to 49.96%) declaring that a woman has a right to choose physician performed abortion prior to fetal viability (24 to 25 weeks into pregnancy).

The initiative made it Washington State public policy that:

  • Every individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse birth control;
  • Every woman has the fundamental right to choose or refuse to have an abortion, except as specifically limited by this act;
  • Except as specifically permitted by this act, the state shall not deny or interfere with a woman’s fundamental right to choose or refuse to have an abortion; and
  • The state shall not discriminate against the exercise of these rights in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.

Based on current Washington law, the overturning of Roe v. Wade will not have an immediate effect or impact. However, if the decision is overturned, a woman’s right to choose would not be protected by the U.S. Constitution, the state legislature in Washington would have the ability at any time to expand or prohibit the termination of a pregnancy.

Any action by the legislature would need to be signed by Governor Inslee, who holds veto power. In Washington, a governors can veto entire bills and entire sections of legislation. A veto by the governor can be overturned with two-thirds vote by the legislature.

Kienan Briscoe

Michael Kienan Briscoe (referred to by his middle name 'Kienan') has a BA in Journalism from Arizona State University and has worked as a freelancer for a variety of publications and organizations throughout New York City and Seattle. Journalism, to him, is one of the most important public tools to ensure an educated and aware society of events surrounding them. When he is not reporting he enjoys writing fiction and poetry, playing guitar, reading classic literature, and getting outdoors. He lives in Seattle with his two dogs.

Kienan Briscoe has 257 posts and counting. See all posts by Kienan Briscoe

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