What if Roe v. Wade is cancelled?

Follow our live updates on the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Friday’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade will usher in a United States not seen in half a century, in which the legal status of abortion depends entirely on the states. Now that the law has changed, reproductive rights will be rewritten almost immediately.

No. Each state will decide if and when abortions will be legal. Many states will continue to allow them, and some have even begun making provisions to help women who live in states that may restrict abortion.

Abortion will likely become illegal in about half of the states, although predictions differ.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, a group that fights abortion restrictions in court and closely monitors state laws, 25 states are likely to ban abortion. These states are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research group focused on reproductive health care, says a slightly different set of states are likely to significantly limit access to abortion: its list of 26 states excludes North Carolina and Pennsylvania, but includes Florida, Iowa and Montana.

Thirteen states have so-called trigger laws, which make abortion illegal after Roe’s fall. Some have old abortion laws on the books that were struck down by the Roe decision but could be enforced again. Still other states, like Oklahoma, have abortion bans that passed this legislative session, despite the Roe precedent.

Some women seeking abortions might obtain them through other means, including traveling to a state where abortion is legal or ordering pills online from outside the country. Texas provides an example. In September, a law came into effect prohibiting abortion after detection of fetal heart activity, approximately six weeks. Abortions in Texas clinics have halved. But many women were able to get abortions in nearby states or by ordering pills, resulting in an overall drop of only about 10%.

Without Roe, abortion will likely decline further because women will have to travel farther to reach a state where it is legal. Many women who have abortions are poor and the long journeys can be overwhelming. States likely to ban abortion are concentrated in the South, Midwest and Great Plains. Due to the expected increase in interstate travel, the remaining clinics will most likely have less capacity to treat women who can reach them.

Research from December on estimated changes in distances to clinics found that, if Roe were canceled, the number of legal abortions would likely drop by about 14% (updated to 13% in more recent research). Our December article explained this research and offered a map of where abortions were likely to decline the most.

Under Roe, about one in four American women were expected to have an abortion at some point, according to a Guttmacher Institute study.

This includes women from all walks of life. But statistics show that women who have abortions in the United States are more likely to be single; be in your twenties; have low income; and already have a child. They are disproportionately likely to be black. They are more likely to live in a Democratic-leaning state.

Our December article describes the demographic characteristics of the typical abortive patient.

The United States now joins a very small group of countries that have tightened abortion laws in recent years, rather than loosening them. Three countries have done so since 1994: Poland, El Salvador and Nicaragua. During that time, 59 countries expanded access, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Under Roe, the United States has been unusual in allowing abortion for any reason until around 23 weeks. Yet in many countries where the thresholds are earlier, abortion is permitted for a wide variety of reasons, according to the center.

Sixty-six countries – home to around a quarter of women of childbearing age – either ban abortion or allow it only if a woman’s life is in danger. Without Roe, some states will align with these countries.

Our January article explains international approaches to abortion law.

Quickly, then slowly.

Several states have already stopped offering abortions in anticipation of this decision.

Due to the wording of the trigger laws, clinics in more states will most likely begin closing immediately. In other states, the laws will activate in about a month.

There are also many states where abortion law may be caught up in the courts, or where legislatures will make legal changes in the days, weeks and months to come. Abortion will become a topic of active political debate in many parts of the country for years to come.

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