Updated Jun 27, 2022 - Politics & Policy
Axios Explains: Abortion

The abortion trigger laws that have gone into effect now that Roe v. Wade is overturned

Data: Axios research; Cartogram: Sara Wise and Oriana Gonzalez/Axios

Abortion will become illegal in at least 13 states after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and more will quickly follow suit.

Why it matters: The Supreme Court's Friday ruling grants states the legal authority to ban the procedure at any point in pregnancy — including at fertilization.

Where it stands: With the court's ruling to ultimately overturn the precedents that established the constitutional right to an abortion, a patchwork of state laws will now govern the procedure.

  • In the U.S. 13 states have what are known as "trigger" laws — abortion bans that take effect shortly after the court overturns its precedents.

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, abortion has already become illegal in Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

  • Louisiana's and Utah's "trigger" laws took effect immediately after the Supreme Court's decision, but they have been temporarily blocked.
  • The "trigger" laws in Idaho, Tennessee and Texas say that they take effect a month the Supreme Court's judgment overturning Roe is issued. In Mississippi, the law is set to take effect 10 days after being certified by the state's attorney general, who did so on June 27.
  • The laws in Wyoming and North Dakota require some sort of state action in order for them to take effect. As of June 27, officials in those states have yet to take steps to activate the bans.

The big picture: Four states — Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia — have amended their state constitutions to prohibit any protections for abortion rights.

  • Oklahoma enacted a bill in late April that would modify the language of the trigger law to ban abortions if the court “overrules in whole or in part” Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
  • Several other states don't have trigger laws in place but will likely move quickly to ban or tightly restrict the procedure now that the court has cleared the way: Florida, Indiana, Montana and Nebraska would be prime candidates, according to analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research organization.
  • Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and South Carolina have all enacted restrictive laws that were then blocked by federal courts, and some of them have already been brought back.
Data: Guttmacher Institute, Axios research; Table: Simran Parwani/Axios

At least nine states have pre-Roe abortion bans still on the books, but many of those would not immediately take effect in the disappearance of Roe, Elizabeth Nash, a lead state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, told Axios back in October.

  • "It would take some kind of action," Nash said, such as an attorney general issuing an opinion, a state filing a court case, etc.
  • For some states, it "might" even be easier to pass a new law prohibiting abortion instead of starting the process to make a pre-Roe ban take effect, Nash noted.

Yes, but: At least 16 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted laws that automatically keep abortion legal even with Roe overturned.

  • Colorado in March became the latest state to codify the right to have an abortion. Abortion-rights advocates in the state are considering pursuing a ballot measure in 2024 to enshrine abortion access in the state's constitution.
  • In Vermont, where abortion access is already guaranteed, lawmakers have advanced an amendment, which voters will decide on in November, that would protect the right to get an abortion under the state's constitution — which could make it the first state to do so.

Zoom in: In states like New Mexico, Kansas, Montana, Alaska, Florida and Minnesota, the right to an abortion is protected by a state Supreme Court precedent, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

  • However, lawsuits could be brought in the more conservative states where there is an anti-abortion majority of lawmakers and politicians that could challenge these decisions.

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