Los Angeles Times

Roe demise won’t end fights over laws

In politicall­y divided states, a sweeping ban on abortion could become a volatile issue in 2022 vote.

- By David Crary Crary writes for the Associated Press. AP religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Conversati­on U.S. AP is solely responsibl­e for this content.

On both sides of America’s abortion debate, activists are convinced that Roe vs. Wade — the 1973 Supreme Court ruling establishi­ng a nationwide right to abortion — is imperiled as never before.

Yet no matter how the current conservati­ve-dominated court handles pending high-profile abortion cases — perhaps weakening Roe, perhaps gutting it completely — there will be no monolithic, nationwide change. Fractious state-bystate battles over abortion access will continue.

Roe’s demise would probably prompt at least 20 Republican-governed states to impose sweeping bans; perhaps 15 Democratic-governed states would reaffirm support for abortion access.

More complicate­d would be politicall­y divided states where fights over abortion laws could become ferocious — and probably a volatile issue in the 2022 elections.

“Many of these states are one election away from a vastly different political landscape when it comes to abortion,” said Jessica Arons, a reproducti­ve rights lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Those states include Pennsylvan­ia, Michigan and Wisconsin, which now have Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatur­es. GOP gubernator­ial victories next year could position those states to join others in imposing bans if Roe were nullified.

The net effect on abortion prevalence is difficult to predict, given that many people in states with bans would persist in seeking to terminate unwanted pregnancie­s. Some could face drives of hundreds of miles to reach the nearest clinic; others might obtain abortion pills by mail to end a pregnancy on their own.

Among the briefs filed with the Supreme Court as it considers a Mississipp­i law banning most abortions after 15 weeks is one reflecting input from 154 economists and researcher­s. If abortions became illegal in 23 states, they calculate, the number of abortions at clinics nationwide would fall by about 14%, or about 120,000, in the following year.

Abortion rights activists predict that women of color, rural residents, low-income women, and LGBTQ people would be disproport­ionately affected.

Under this scenario, the economists say, bans would affect 26 million women of child-rearing age, and the average distance to the nearest abortion clinic would increase to 279 miles from 35 miles.

Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a research organizati­on that supports abortion rights, says a gutting of Roe would galvanize some Democratic governed states and abortion rights groups to accelerate programs assisting people to cross state lines for abortions.

“But things will get complicate­d and difficult very quickly,” she said. “You’re disrupting the entire abortion care network across the country, and people will be seeking abortion in locations which may not have enough capacity for people in their state already.”

A possible preview is unfolding at Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Fairview Heights, Ill., just outside St. Louis. It opened in 2019 as an abortion option for people from Missouri and other nearby Republican governed states. It’s seeing an increase in patients from farther away as a near-total ban in Texas creates appointmen­t backlogs throughout the south-central United States.

Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Planned Parenthood’s chief medical officer for reproducti­ve health services in the St. Louis region, said the clinic is bracing for a possible influx of an additional 14,000 women per year seeking abortion services if postRoe bans proliferat­e.

“We’re absolutely thinking about what operationa­l changes we would need — staying open seven days a week, operating two shifts each day — to absorb that many patients,” she said.

Already, patients are “super frustrated” by drives of up to nine hours from home, she said.

Michael New, an abortion opponent who teaches social research at the Catholic University of America, said possible increases of out-ofstate abortions and “mailorder abortions” would be among several challenges facing the antiaborti­on movement even as its dream of Roe’s demise came true.

Another potential challenge: Some Democratic leaning prosecutor­s might refuse to enforce bans.

Michigan, for one, has a 90-year-old ban on the books. Michigan Atty. Gen. Dana Nessel, a Democrat, says she wouldn’t enforce it if it became law; a local prosecutor, Democrat Eli Savit in Washtenaw County, tweeted, “We will never, ever prosecute any person for exercising reproducti­ve freedom.”

Although there’s a consensus that Roe is more vulnerable than ever, there’s no certainty about how the justices might proceed. Clues will surface Dec. 1, when they hear arguments in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organizati­on.

In that case, Mississipp­i is asking the court to overrule Roe and a follow-up 1992 decision that prevents states from banning abortion before viability, the point around 24 weeks of pregnancy when a fetus can survive outside the womb.

If the court simply upholds Mississipp­i’s ban, other Republican-governed states would probably enact similar measures. The Guttmacher Institute says 6.3% to 7.4% of U.S. abortions, or 54,000 to 63,000 annually, are obtained at or after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

However, activists on opposing sides believe the high court — either in the Mississipp­i case or a subsequent one — is poised to go further, nullifying Roe so states would be free to impose sweeping bans.

“For nearly 50 years, states have been prevented from passing abortion laws that reflect the values of people who live there,” said Mallory Quigley of the Susan B. Anthony List, an antiaborti­on group. “Dobbs is the best opportunit­y since 1973 to correct that.”

Wisconsin could become one of the most contested battlegrou­nds, since it still has in its statutes an 1849 law criminaliz­ing abortion. But even if the law took effect, it might not be enforced if next year’s election leaves Democrats serving as governor, attorney general and as district attorneys in Milwaukee and Madison, which are home to abortion clinics.

The 2022 elections are likely to energize activists in each camp, says Julaine Appling, an abortion opponent who leads the Wisconsin Family Council.

“The smart candidates running on either side will say it makes a huge difference who is governor and who is attorney general,” she said. “Wisconsin is very purple — and we’ve got a real fight on our hands on this issue.”

When Roe was decided, abortion was broadly legal in four states, allowed under limited circumstan­ces in 16 others, and outlawed under nearly all circumstan­ces elsewhere. In 1974, a year after Roe, there were about 900,000 abortions in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Abortions rose steadily, peaking at 1.61 million in 1990, before a steady decline — falling to 862,000 in Guttmacher’s latest survey, covering 2017. The decline is attributed to increased availabili­ty of effective contracept­ion and a plunge in unintended pregnancie­s, notably among teens.

Women also have safer, easier options for terminatin­g pregnancie­s; medication abortions now account for about 40% of U.S. abortions. Advocacy groups are spreading the word about abortion pills that can be used at home.

Increased use of mail-order pills could pose a dilemma for the antiaborti­on movement, given that its leaders generally say they don’t favor criminaliz­ing the actions of women seeking abortions. Pills often are shipped from overseas; those suppliers are an elusive target for prosecutor­s.

 ?? Rebecca Blackwell Associated Press ?? TEXAS’ abortion ban has led to an increase in patients who have to travel farther to obtain the procedure. A woman from Texas, above right, is among those seeking an abortion at a clinic in Shreveport, La., in October.
Rebecca Blackwell Associated Press TEXAS’ abortion ban has led to an increase in patients who have to travel farther to obtain the procedure. A woman from Texas, above right, is among those seeking an abortion at a clinic in Shreveport, La., in October.

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