Jun 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Post-Roe legal turmoil hits hardest for blue cities in red America

Illustration of a small blue megaphone against a red background.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday and send the question of abortion rights back to the states kickstarted a period of legal uncertainty that effectively halted abortion access across some red states.

Why it matters: For many Americans, especially those residing in the bluest parts of red states, abortions might not technically become illegal for a few more weeks — but they've instantly become almost impossible to obtain.

In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton confirmed that the state's "trigger" law will come into effect a month after the Supreme Court's official judgment, but noted that "some prosecutors may choose to immediately pursue criminal prosecutions based on violations of Texas abortion prohibitions predating Roe that were never repealed by the Texas Legislature."

  • That led Whole Woman's Health, America's largest independent abortion provider, to choose to stop abortions at its four clinics in the state, per the Texas Tribune.

In Tennessee, which also has a "trigger" law, Attorney General Herbert Slatery asked the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to immediately end a stay on the state's separate 2020 law that would outlaw abortions after 6 weeks — a move that would effectively criminalize the procedure in most instances.

  • Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi told WPLN in a statement that it expects the stay to be lifted and has stopped offering abortions in the state as a result.

The other side: Blue cities in these states are discussing implementing policies of their own in an attempt to offer their citizens some level of abortion access, which Axios' Oriana Gonzalez previewed earlier this month.

  • In Austin, city council members Chito Vela and Vanessa Fuentes called for a special meeting to decriminalize abortion, part of a measure that would make enforcing Texas’ abortion ban of the lowest priority for Austin police. The move also would restrict the use of city funds and staff for investigations into abortions.
  • A spokesperson for Vela’s office previously told Axios that his office has been in contact with lawmakers in several other cities, including Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, who are interested in advancing similar measures.
  • Nashville Councilmember Freddie O'Connell tells Axios he is studying how the city could create an abortion access fund to provide ways for city residents to legally get abortions in other states. The city's district attorney has also said he won't prosecute abortions, although state law allows for a special prosecutor on certain charges.

The bottom line: More than anywhere else in America, residents of cities like Austin and Nashville will face the biggest shock from the Supreme Court's decision — with their immediate access to abortion cut off almost overnight.

Axios' Nicole Cobler, Nate Rau and Adam Tamburin contributed to this story.

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