States divided on abortion restrictions, future uncertain in many places

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Different laws spanning more than 170 years will now govern abortion access in states across the country following the Supreme Court’s reversal of the 1973 ruling that recognized a constitutional right to abortion.

Last week’s high court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization turns regulation of abortion over to the states, and some are choosing to implement their laws restricting abortion while others are looking to change the rules or ignore them entirely.

An Associated Press tally listed 20 states with major restrictions or bans on the procedure that now take effect with Roe v. Wade struck.

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank, estimates that eventually 26 states will ban the procedure outright. The group noted that more than a dozen states already had laws regulating or banning abortion that were triggered by the justices’ opinion last week.

For example, South Dakota banned abortions after the 22nd week of pregnancy and the state has just a single facility regularly conducting abortions, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls.

Gov. Kristi Noem, South Dakota Republican, defended her state’s abortion restrictions Sunday but she said women should not be prosecuted for obtaining an abortion.


SEE ALSO: Nationwide protests denouncing Dobbs ruling lead to dozens of arrests over the weekend


“I don’t believe women should ever be prosecuted, I don’t believe that mothers in this situation should ever be prosecuted,” she told ABC’s “This Week.” “Now doctors who knowingly violate the law — they should be prosecuted definitely.”

More populous states such as Texas and Oklahoma have more restrictive laws, with Texas’ law enforceable through lawsuits filed by private citizens against doctors or those helping a woman obtain an abortion.

When asked whether South Dakota would surveil women or adopt more restrictive laws like Texas and Oklahoma, Ms. Noem told the CBS program “Face the Nation” that she did not anticipate that.

Leaders of states governed by liberal officials said they not only will keep abortion available in their states but even extend the service to out-of-state women.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced alongside the Democratic governors of Oregon and Washington that they were developing a “West Coast offensive” to defend abortion providers and “fight like hell.”

“We’re going to expand access to abortion services for the people in need,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a video published to Twitter by Mr. Newsom.

Still other states are struggling to decide what to do, especially in the case of states with old laws formally on the books.

For example, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, has said he would not investigate or prosecute anyone for having an abortion although an 1849 state law makes abortion a felony.

That law was an unenforceable dead letter as long as Roe made abortion a federal constitutional right, but the state legislature never formally repealed it and thus it is now Wisconsin law again.

As a result, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin said it would not take chances and halted providing abortions after the Supreme Court ruling.

“If you live in Wisconsin and need an abortion, it’s important to contact your local Planned Parenthood first,” reads Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s website. “We will work with you to get abortion care in a state where it remains legal.”

Neighboring Illinois and Minnesota have recently expanded abortion rights under state law and their Democratic governors issued statements in the wake of the Dobbs decision pledging to do more.

For example, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said via executive order that his state would deny extradition requests from other states pursuing criminal charges related to abortion services that are legal in Minnesota.

Confusion also reigns in Michigan, where Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked the state’s Supreme Court on Friday to “decide if Michigan’s state constitution protects the right to abortion.”

Planned Parenthood of Michigan had preemptively filed a state-court lawsuit against a 1931 state law that criminalized abortion, and had obtained a temporary injunction while the case was being litigated, which means abortion is unquestionably legal in the state for now.

Ms. Whitmer also sued the chief prosecutor in every county that had an abortion facility to enjoin them from enforcing that law.

But the state’s Republican-majority legislature wants to keep the law on the books.

Separately, pro-choice activists are organizing a ballot initiative for this fall’s election that would make abortion a right in Michigan’s state constitution.

“Now is the time to use every tool in our toolbox to protect women and reproductive health care. I will fight like hell to protect every Michigander’s right to make decisions about their own bodies,” Ms. Whitmer said Friday.

Other states where abortion providers already have stopped their work since Friday’s Supreme Court ruling include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Dakota and West Virginia.

While individual abortion providers and states determine their next steps, Democrats are calling for new federal law and seeking to make abortion access a priority for voters ahead of the midterm elections.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, said Sunday that Democratic victories in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin’s Senate races in November would enable Congress to cement abortion rights at the federal level.

Democrats control Congress but the 50-50 split in the Senate has made advancing liberal policies an uphill battle.

“Focus like a laser on the election in November and we get two more senators on the Democratic side, two senators who are willing to protect access to abortion and get rid of the filibuster so that we can pass it,” Ms. Warren told ABC’s “This Week.”

“And yes, John Fetterman, I’m looking at you in Pennsylvania. Mandela Barnes, I’m looking at you in Wisconsin. We bring them in, then we’ve got the votes and we can protect every woman no matter where she lives,” she said.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, is facing television celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, in the race to replace retiring Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Senate in his state, to oppose incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in November.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said Sunday that he does not believe abortion is going to determine the balance of power for Congress, governors, and state legislatures.

“It’s not going to change the 2022 outcome,” Mr. Graham told Fox. “I really do believe most Americans are comfortable with elected officials making decisions about life. Let every state do it the way they would like.”

He said the price of gas, crime, and border security are issues he expects to factor heavily in the midterm elections.

• This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

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