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Can I get an abortion? The Southern guide to abortion rights post-Roe

On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, ruling the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion. The court’s 6-3 decision in the Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturns the federally protected right to an abortion, which stood for nearly 50 years following the Roe decision. The new ruling is not a nationwide abortion ban, but returns the authority to regulate abortion to individual states. The ruling is expected to lead to abortion bans in about half of all states, including most of the South.

Federal protections for abortion rights evaporated this week with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe. Nearly every Southern state has an anti-abortion law on the books.

In a post-Roe world, Southerners are asking: What happens next?

The impact of the new ruling will be deep, but it may not be immediate. Read on for Reckon’s explainer on what to expect.

So is abortion illegal now?

The Supreme Court’s decision this week in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization doesn’t outlaw abortion nationwide. It upholds a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, overturning the court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed a constitutional right to abortion.

The Dobbs decision means states can now individually determine whether abortion is legal within their borders.

Twenty-six states, including nearly all of the South, are certain or likely to ban abortion now that Roe has been overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that works on reproductive rights issues.

How many abortion facilities will be impacted?

More than 200 facilities nationwide will likely stop offering abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, representing a quarter of all abortion-providing facilities, according to a new study from the University of California San Francisco.

Most of those providers – around 171 facilities – are located in the South.

Will abortion clinics stop abortions immediately?

In many states, yes.

Thirteen states, including Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, have so-called trigger laws already in place. These laws were designed to go into effect immediately or within days if the Supreme Court overturns Roe.

Other Southern states, like Alabama and Georgia, have strict anti-abortion laws that are awaiting decisions in federal courts. After abortion rights advocates filed legal challenges, courts prevented these laws from going into effect until their constitutionality can be determined.

These laws are now expected be ruled constitutional in the wake of Dobbs, but it’s unclear how quickly rulings from lower courts might come in.

Georgia State constitutional law professor Anthony Michael Kreis told Axios Atlanta last month that he expected appeals court rulings could happen within “a matter of hours” from the ruling.

Due to the laws’ murky legal status, abortion providers in states like Alabama have said they would stop performing abortions rather than risk felony charges.

But stopping abortions doesn’t necessarily mean the clinics will shut down completely.

“We will be here until basically we’re bankrupt,” said Robin Marty, clinic director at the West Alabama Women’s Center, one of Alabama’s three clinics that provided abortions. She said clinic leadership is fundraising and trying to become a nonprofit in order to qualify for financial grants. She said the clinic will continue to provide other reproductive healthcare services, including abortion after-care for people who need it.

“There are going to be people who need follow-up care when they are doing their own abortion, because abortion is still going to happen here in Alabama, legal or not.”

What will abortion access look like where I live?

Abortion laws are different in every state. Gestational limits allowed for abortion, exceptions in cases of rape or incest, punishments for abortion providers, whether medication abortion can be legally obtained in the mail – they all vary.

Muddying the waters further: In states where most abortion is now — or will soon be — illegal, some local district attorneys and city officials have signaled their unwillingness to help states enforce their abortion bans.

Some prosecutors in Orleans Parish, La., Nashville, Tenn., and in urban counties in Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina have said they won’t make abortion-related prosecutions a high priority in their departments. Some have said they won’t enforce state bans at all. In Austin, Texas, a city councilman proposed a resolution to direct Austin police to make criminal enforcement of the abortion ban its lowest priority, and to restrict city resources from being used to investigate suspected abortions.

And another layer of uncertainty: State officials may not yet have the infrastructure or plans in place to enforce their abortion laws.

A recent Business Insider investigation that focused on the 13 trigger-law states found that almost no state agencies or officials could provide clear details about how their states would enforce their anti-abortion laws.

The next few weeks and months in states with anti-abortion laws will likely be filled with legal uncertainty and confusion as state officials, courts and law enforcement work through what a post-Roe world will look like.

Clear as mud, right? Here’s what we do know so far about abortion bans in Southern states:

Alabama: In 2019, the Alabama Legislature passed what was at the time the nation’s strictest anti-abortion law. After abortion providers challenged the law as unconstitutional, a federal judge blocked it with a temporary injunction.

Late Friday afternoon, a few hours after the Dobbs opinion was released, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson granted Alabama’s request to lift the temporary injunction, meaning Alabama’s 2019 law is now in place, criminalizing all abortions except in cases where the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

The law makes performing an abortion a felony. The law doesn’t make exceptions for victims of sexual assault. Providers face up to 99 years of imprisonment for performing an abortion.

Arkansas: In 2019 Arkansas passed its own trigger law, making performing an abortion a criminal offense in the event Roe was overturned. The law goes into effect as soon as the state’s attorney general certifies it. Criminal penalties include a fine of up to $100,000 and up to 10 years imprisonment. Exceptions are only made in the cases of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or to save the life of the pregnant person.

Florida: This year, Florida passed a law similar to Mississippi’s, banning most abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation. The only exceptions are to prevent serious injury or death to the life of the pregnant person, and in certain cases of fetal abnormalities. Violations of the law are punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.

Florida’s law has been challenged in court by Planned Parenthood and by a Jewish congregation, which argued the law violates their religious freedom rights because abortion is required if necessary under Jewish law to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the pregnant person. A hearing on a proposed injunction to block the law is expected in the next few weeks.

On Friday, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody tweeted that her office “will continue working to defend state laws that protect life.”

Georgia: Georgia’s 2019 law bans abortion once cardiac activity has been detected in an embryo. That’s usually around six weeks gestation. Abortion rights advocates have called this an effective ban on abortion since they say many people don’t realize they’re pregnant at six weeks gestation.

The law makes exceptions in cases of rape or incest if the victim has filed a police report and if the fetus is at 20 weeks gestation or earlier. The law also excepts cases where a doctor determines the pregnancy is “medically futile.” Violations carry a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment and fines up to $5,000.

A lawsuit challenging Georgia’s law has been on hold in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs.

Friday, following the Dobbs ruling, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced his office had filed a notice in the 11th Circuit requesting a reversal of the district court’s decision, to allow Georgia’s abortion ban to take effect.

If the court grants Carr’s request, the law would likely go into effect immediately.

Kentucky: Kentucky’s 2019 trigger law banned abortions immediately upon the overturning of Roe, criminalizing the performing of abortions in all cases except in order to prevent the death or serious injury of the pregnant person. An abortion provider would face up to five years in prison.

On Friday afternoon, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron spoke publicly about Dobbs’ impact on Kentucky abortion law: “As of this morning, except when the health of the mother is at risk, abortion is no longer lawful in the commonwealth (of Kentucky).”

His office later issued an advisory, saying Kentucky’s abortion ban took effect on June 24, following the Dobbs decision. It does not prohibit contraceptive use and does not apply in the case of a miscarriage.

Read more: Questions to ask your OBGYN post-Roe

Louisiana: Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry tweeted on June 24 that “Louisiana’s trigger law banning #abortion is now in effect” and that he and his office “will do everything in our power to ensure the laws of Louisiana that have been passed to protect the unborn are enforceable, even if we have to go back to court.”

But on June 28, a Louisiana judge temporarily blocked the ban, after abortion providers filed a lawsuit calling the state law too ambiguous. They alleged it’s impossible to tell which of Louisiana’s multiple trigger laws are currently in effect and therefore impossible to know what conduct has been criminalized.

A hearing has been set for July 8.

Louisiana’s most recent trigger law would ban anyone from performing an abortion or providing drugs that could cause an abortion. Penalties for violating the law include up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000. The only exception to the law is to prevent serious injury or death of the pregnant person.

Mississippi: The 2018 Mississippi law at issue in the Dobbs case goes into effect 10 days from June 28, when Mississippi’s attorney general filed certifiecation that Roe v. Wade was overturned.

But a Mississippi state Supreme Court ruling from 1998 has muddied the legal waters. That ruling, which declared the right to an abortion is granted in Mississippi’s state constitution, could supercede Mississippi’s 2007 trigger law, which bans abortion following the overturning of Roe.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization has filed a lawsuit that argues the trigger law and the 2018 law are invalid due to the 1998 state Supreme Court decision. it’s unclear how the new lawsuit might impact whether abortions could resume while it makes its way through the courts.

Meanwhile, on June 24, Mississippi Attorney General issued a video statement celebrating the Dobbs decision as “victory” for women and children. She also called on Mississippi to “renew our commitment to weaving a safety net that helps women in challenging circumstances”and said the moment called for Mississippians to advocate for “laws that empower women” including those that promote child support payment and enforcement, child care, and workplace policies that support families.

Under the 2018 law, if it goes into effect, an provider faces up to 10-year imprisonment for performing an abortion. The law makes an exception if the pregnancy threatens the life of the pregnant person, or in cases of rape if a formal rape charge was filed with law enforcement.

North Carolina: Abortion is still legal in North Carolina, though with restrictions. Abortions can be performed until 20 weeks gestation, but not later except to save the life or health of the pregnant person. Abortion providers must be licensed medical doctors.

South Carolina: In 2021 South Carolina banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, once cardiac activity is detectable. It’s been challenged in federal court, which temporarily blocked enforcement of the law pending the Supreme Court decision.

The overturning of Roe will likely mean the block will be lifted and the law will go into effect. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson tweeted Friday that his office “stands ready to defend any law passed by the legislature.”

In May 2022, the South Carolina legislature agreed to a possible special session to discuss further abortion legislation.

Tennessee: Abortions are banned in Tennessee beginning at 6 weeks of pregnancy.

Tennessee’s 2019 trigger law was designed to go into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. But on June 28, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a temporary injunction that had been holding back a 2020 abortion ban, allowing that law to take effect.

This allowed Tennessee to outlaw abortion immediately, rather than waiting the 30 days outlined in the 2019 law.

On June 24, shortly after the Dobbs decision came down, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery filed an emergency motion in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to ask the court to lift its injunction and allow Tennessee to immediately enforce the 2020 law.

The 2020 ban outlaws performing an abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, usually six weeks into pregnancy. But it will eventually be superceded by the stricter 2019 law, which goes into effect 30 days from June 24. That law makes providing an abortion a Class C felony, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000. The only exception to the law is in cases where the pregnancy threatens the life of the pregnant person.

Texas: Beginning June 28, some clinics are able to resume providing abortions for patients up to about six weeks of pregnancy, thanks to a Texas state court issuing a temporary restraining order against certain officials that bars then from enforcing an old abortion law.

Texas’s more recent trigger law, which that bans nearly all abortions, is expected go into effect in a few weeks, 30 days from when the Supreme Court issues its judgement in the Dobbs case. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said that while the Supreme Court’s opinion was released June 24, Texas’ 30-day rule only goes into effect once the Supreme Court issued its official judgment, which could take a month to be released. Paxton said his office would publicly announce an effective date for the ban “as soon as possible.”

The only exception to Texas’ trigger law, once it’s in effect, is in cases where the pregnant person risks death or “substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” Criminal penalties for performing an illegal abortion are at least $100,000 fine and the loss of the provider’s medical license.

Paxton also declared June 24 would be an annual holiday in his office, and that he was closing his offices statewide in recognition of the overturning of Roe.

Virginia: Virginia is one of the only states in the South where most abortions are still legal. State law permits abortion through the end of the second trimester of pregnancy. It’s allowed in the third trimester only if the pregnancy threatens death or serious injury to the pregnant person.

But on Friday, Virginia’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced he has asked four Virginia lawmakers to craft legislation that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The office of Virginia’s Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares tweeted Friday that “Good and reasonable people can disagree on this issue” and that the attorney general would “continue to uphold and enforce” the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia.

The Reckon Report.
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