What Do Abortion Laws Look Like in the Post-Roe World?

Back in May, the ProLife Doc blog, in discussing the leaked draft opinion in Dobbs, highlighted the fact that the overturning of Roe v. Wade would not be the culmination of the fight for life, but only the beginning. The Dobb’s opinion meant that the legality of abortion would be taken out of the courts and returned to the legislature – in this case, 50 different legislatures in the 50 different states. 

Now, just a few months later, the legal landscape has indeed changed to reveal a somewhat fractured mosaic of abortion laws in the 50 states. Because of Dobbs, the issue of abortion is now squarely in the control of the state law-making bodies. 

Dobbs is making it necessary for politicians to take a stand. The truth is, probably all politicians at the federal level, and many at the state level, preferred the pre-Dobbs landscape. Before, they could say whatever they wanted to placate their favored constituency without going on record with a vote and put their political careers on the line. Roe had taken abortion out of their hands. Dobbs has changed all that.

Abortion Laws in the 50 States

Before summarizing current laws, it should be emphasized that the laws are a bit uncertain in some states. This is because, when Roe was struck down, some state legislatures had not addressed abortion squarely in many years, and it is now unclear whether and which laws apply. For example, just this month, a physicians group in Arizona filed suit asking the Arizona state courts to clarify what the law is: a new law, which was passed prior to Dobbs, that creates a 15-week ban, or an old law, dating back to 1864, that criminalizes all abortions. But despite the confusion, the states are sure to sort themselves out in relatively short order so that their populations have clear direction. 

At present, the states can be divided into broad categories according to which are most pro-life, and which are most pro-abortion. It should be noted, however, that the laws differ greatly from state to state in many details. For example, the laws may address such things as parental notification requirements for minors, who is authorized to provide abortions, waiting periods, insurance coverage, and so on. Consequently, the following categories are not created with hard lines but provide a general guideline in understanding where the different states stand with respect to protecting the pre-born.

  • 12 states have effective bans on abortion, with minimal exceptions: Idaho and South Dakota in the north, and then a block of states in the south: Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.
  • 14 states have some restrictions on abortions, either with respect to the gestational age, or with the conditions under which abortion can be performed: Arizona, Utah, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
  • The remaining 24 states have very limited restrictions on abortion, many only banning it after viability (about 22 weeks) or with no restrictions. In general, laws in these states also impose few conditions on access to abortion and provide for payment of abortion services through Medicaid or other funding mechanisms.

The Battleground is in Every Heart and Soul

As can be seen by these state numbers, nearly 50 years of Roe v. Wade has done its damage. Despite the fact that pregnancy is easily preventable, abortion is now seen by many women as just another method of birth control. Two generations of women have been brought up in a Roe world, and it will take a lot more than one Supreme Court decision to reverse course.

But just as each baby’s life is precious, unique, and a gift of God, so is every mother unique, precious, and a gift of God. It will take a lot of compassion and outreach to educate more women to the point that they will begin to justly cherish their special gift of bringing new life into this world.

Everyone who is pro-life should be heartened by the progress the movement has made, and be willing to take the next steps, not just in the state-houses and courts, but in the lives of those around them. If every pro-life advocate were to change the perspective of just one person, and multiply their efforts year after year, it wouldn’t take many years to raise up a new generation of people who revere motherhood and who treat the gift of life as the miracle that it is.

We know we are on the right side. We know that defeat is not merely not an option, but not even a possibility, because we are doing God’s work. The courts are not where real victory lies, but in the hearts, minds, and souls of everyone made in God’s image and likeness. Let us do all we can to make that image shine through.

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