On Thursday, May 16, Missouri became one step closer to joining Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, and Kentucky in limiting where you can get an abortion in America. The state's majority Republican State Senate voted 24-10 to in support of a bill that would ban all abortions after eight weeks, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or human trafficking. Under the bill (which won't be law until it's voted on by the Missouri house again and then approved by Governor Mike Parson, which are both expected to happen), any doctors who don't comply could be subjected to criminal punishment of up to 15 years. The most important thing to know about abortions in the U.S. right now, though, is that despite these disturbing measures, you still have the right to get the procedure in every single state in the country.
Yes, access to abortion in America has been rapidly deteriorating for the last decade, with a fourth of the abortion restrictions passed since 1973's Roe v. Wade occurring between 2011 and 2018, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And it's true that in the last six months, in particular, anti-choice lawmakers have gone into overdrive in order to completely restrict access to reproductive care. But all these incredibly harsh bills, including Alabama and Missouri's, can't ban abortion completely as long as Roe v. Wade exists, according to the New York Times.
Thanks to the historic ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide, women in every state (even ones with severe restrictions and few clinics) can still access abortion providers — they're just increasingly hard to come by. And unfortunately, it might get even more difficult if more states enact restrictive bans. As the Times notes, these bills are part of strategy by the Republican party to eventually overturn Roe v. Wade by convincing the Supreme Court justices — which currently has one of the most conservative benches in recent history, after the 2018 confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh — to take on the case.
All of the recent bans signed into law will not go into effect for at least six months, and if any state attempts to enforce their bans now, they will be challenged in court — and it could take years before a case is presented before the Supreme Court.
“All who care about women should be alarmed by the callousness and extremism of politicians who seek to deny women the ability to make decisions about their reproductive health and lives. Alabama’s criminal abortion ban, and all other affronts to Roe v. Wade, will be challenged and blocked in the courts," Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told Mic via email said after the passing of the Alabama bill. "The Supreme Court has upheld the core protections for women’s reproductive decision-making for almost 50 years, and the integrity of the Court and the lives of women depend on its following settled law and rejecting these cruel attempts to upend our constitutional rights.”
Here’s what the state of abortion in the United States looks like right now, following Alabama and Missouri's recent bans.
Abortion is severely restricted in most of the country
All over America, it's ridiculously difficult to get an abortion. A Guttmacher Institute study found that 57 percent of women aged 15-44 live in a state that is hostile or severely hostile to abortion rights. Further, the study reported that 75 percent of the people seeking abortions are poor or low income, and 60 percent of patients are in their 20s. Between prohibitive costs, distances to clinics, counseling requirements, and mandated waiting periods, lawmakers have implemented decades of anti-choice policies nationwide that have already affected millions of women.
As of 2014, 25 states had just five or fewer abortion clinics. Five of these places — Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Mississippi, and Missouri — only had one abortion clinic for the entire state. In Louisiana, which has three abortion clinics, women have to travel an average of 150 miles to access the nearest one, according to a study by the University of California’s Advancing New Standards In Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) research department. Additionally, in Georgia, Kentucky, and Ohio, abortions are illegal after a heartbeat is detected — which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, long before a person might even realize they are pregnant.
After Roe v. Wade was passed, many states passed laws that limited funding or placed severe restrictions on abortion clinics (such as the clinics having to have procedure rooms of a certain size) with the goal of making the clinics impossible to keep open; these are called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) Laws. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 24 states have “laws or policies that regulate abortion providers and go beyond what is necessary to ensure patients’ safety; all apply to clinics that perform surgical abortion.”
If Roe. v. Wade falls, several states will ban abortion completely
According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, if Roe v. Wade fell, 22 states would be at a high risk of banning all abortions. There are now seven states (Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota) that have a “trigger ban” provision in their abortion legislation that allows them to automatically ban all abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned. When Missouri Governor Mike Parsons signs his state’s ban into law, it will become the eighth state to have a trigger ban provision.
Thankfully, there are some states that have protections for abortion even if Roe v. Wade were to be defeated. California, where there are 152 abortion clinics, has both state constitutional and statutory protections that ensure a person’s right to abortion no matter what national law says. Nine states have constitutional protections, which mean that the highest state court has determined that abortion will always be protected in the state. Eight states have statutory protections, which are weaker than constitutional protections but could still preserve access to clinics.
Reproductive rights activists across America are on the ground and in courtrooms organizing to ensure that the efforts led by conservative Republican lawmakers are not successful. The American Civil Liberties Union has declared they will sue states that pass abortion bans, and celebrities from Rihanna to Bernie Sanders have spoken out in condemnation of the recent bills. Even more, according to recent polling, 60 percent of U.S. adults support legal abortion access in the first trimester of pregnancy.
It is impossible to predict what will happen next with the abortion bans. Still, take some comfort in knowing that the laws already in place will certainly be challenged, and luckily, it could be a long time before a case for overturning Roe v. Wade reaches the Supreme Court — if it ever does.