On the morning of June 24, 2022, the abortion landscape in the Unted States changed drastically with the release of the final opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case. This decision overturned the horrific precedents in both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey and ultimately sent the issue of abortion back to each state to decide. Since that moment, states, federal legislators, abortion providers, pregnancy resource centers, protestors, and others immediately began to feel the effects. This, in turn, has created an overwhelming flurry of activity on a number of fronts in the abortion debate over the past week.
It is easy to believe that the overturning of Roe means that the fight to end abortion is over, but the reality is that much remains to be done and decided on the issue. The ending of Roe is a massive step worth celebrating, but it also marks the beginning of a new chapter in the pro-life movement. In order for Christians to wisely engage this issue, it is important for us to be aware of how the advocacy efforts around abortion are quickly changing. Below is a round-up of some of the most important developments that have come about since the Dobbs decision.
In the states
Before the Dobbs decision, states were limited in their ability to regulate abortion, but a key outcome of the opinion was a returning of this issue to the people and their democratic representatives in the states. This means that a diverse array of state laws now govern the issue of abortion, all of which provide exceptions for when a woman’s life is at risk and do not criminalize women seeking abortions
Immediately following the decision and over the next few days, a number of “trigger laws” that totally ban abortion, with slightly differing exceptions for cases of rape and incest, went into effect in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Missouri, Utah, Mississippi, Idaho, Tennessee, Texas, North Dakota, and Wyoming. In Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Arizona, abortion is currently banned due to pre-Roe bans that have remained on the books. It is likely that in some of these states, officials will ask the courts to rule on whether these laws can be reimplemented. Already, courts have temporarily blocked some of these bans in Utah, Arizona, Kentucky, and Louisiana.
In Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, restrictions but not complete bans are currently in place, and several lawsuits have been filed to try and keep these bans from being enacted. Several other states, such as Tennessee and Mississippi, have gestational limit laws in effect until their total bans are ultimately enacted.
While we celebrate these states working to protect life, we must also acknowledge that this decision allows other states to regulate abortion as they see fit and even make their states “abortion destinations.” In Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, the right to abortion is protected under state constitution or law up until various gestational points. Even further, California, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington not only protect access to abortion but are also expanding their laws to shield abortion providers from other state’s bans, create a “sanctuary” for those seeking abortions, and increase mandated insurance coverage for abortion.
One final group of states—Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—remain largely undecided on what their abortion stance will be. Currently, all of these states are allowing abortions up until various gestational limits, but either the courts, state legislatures, or voters may change those restrictions in the coming days.
Though Democrats have had much to say on the end of Roe, the realities of a narrow majority in the House of Representatives and an evenly divided Senate prevent them from taking any real action to preserve access to abortion in states where it is now restricted or prohibited. It is important to note that while the Dobbs decision does return the issue to the states currently, it does not prohibit future federal legislation banning, restricting, or codifying abortion. Some Democrats, including President Biden, have urged Senate Democrats to carve out an exception to the legislative filibuster, a Senate rule that requires 60 votes to end debate and proceed to a vote on most partisan legislation, and codify Roe with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes currently required. However, Sens. Manchin (D-WV) and Sinema (D-AZ) remain strongly opposed to this path.
Speaker Pelosi has committed to exploring legislation around data privacy concerns connected to apps such as period trackers and sensitive location data. She also has considered once again bringing the Women’s Health Protection Act to the floor for a vote. This bill is the most pro-abortion bill to pass the House, and it has failed in the Senate two times this Congress. There is no reason to believe that it would be successful with an additional attempt.
Additionally, Sens. Warren and Markey of Massachusetts introduced a bill targeting pregnancy resource centers for “disinformation” and deception about services provided and preventing women from seeking abortions. This bill is unlikely to become law but has gained support from 15 Senate Democrats. For now, congressional Democrats are largely confined to using this issue to attempt to mobilize voters in November in hopes of winning large enough majorities to pass these pieces of legislation.
If Republicans win a majority in the House of Representatives in November, as many predict, some members of Congress have suggested taking up federal abortion restrictions such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act or the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. Though those bills might pass the House, they would face an uncertain future in the Senate, and would almost assuredly be vetoed by President Biden.
In the White House and administration
Following the ruling, the president has acknowledged there is little that he is able to do, and similarly to Congressional Democrats, urged voters to elect a filibuster-proof majority in November to codify Roe. The president also joined calls to create an exception to the filibuster in order to protect abortion rights.
Within the limited authority of the presidency, Biden committed to two primary steps: ensuring that women can travel to another state to receive an abortion and protecting access to FDA-approved abortion pills. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre rejected calls to use federal lands, national parks, and Veterans Affairs hospitals to provide abortion services due to the “dangerous ramifications.” The administration also launched a new website clearly laying out a woman’s “reproductive rights” and providing features such as an abortion finder and information on insurance coverage of abortion.
The attorney general and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have made similar commitments as Biden and are exploring avenues to ensure that states cannot ban medication abortion and to increase access to these abortifacents. The HHS also released new guidance on HIPPA enforcement “making it clear that providers are not required to disclose private medical information to third parties.” This guidance comes in light of some concern expressed by some women that period tracker or health information apps could threaten privacy rights and put them at risk if they seek to travel for an abortion.
Abortion clinics and pregnancy resource centers
Immediately following the decision, reports began to emerge of abortion clinics across various states either closing entirely or stopping their abortion services. Many abortion providers are considering how they can increase capacity in states where abortion is allowed in order to meet the demand of both local women and those traveling from out of state to receive an abortion.
Pregnancy resource centers around the country are continuingto serve more vulnerable women who may choose to use their services now that abortion providers are no longer open. At the same time, many of these clinics have faced threats and violence in the wake of the decision.
What comes next?
All of these efforts will continue to unfold simultaneously, creating new challenges and opportunities for the pro-life movement to evolve in this new season. One such challenge that the pro-life community will have to consider is the rise of the abortion pill and efforts to expand access to it in states where abortion is now illegal, as referenced by many pro-abortion officials. The abortion pill already accounted for over half of abortions in 2019 and is approved by the FDA for use for up to 10 weeks in a woman’s pregnancy. Recent changes now allow these abortifacients to be received through the mail from other states—even other countries—and can be done without an in-person doctor’s visit in many states. This represents a massive challenge toeliminating abortions and poses new legal territory for pro-life states to navigate. The ERLC has strongly opposed the proliferation of abortion pillsand will continue to advocate against their usage.
While we celebrate the reality of a post-Roe America, we must redouble our efforts to eventually reach a post-abortion America. As the landscape around abortion across the United States continues to change rapidly, the ERLC remains committed to ending abortion, saving lives, serving mothers, and supporting families while equipping churches to continue standing in the gap and praying for vulnerable mothers and their children.
ERLC interns Daniel Hostetter, Cooper Shull, and Rebecca Fried contributed to this article.