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Abortion Laws in a Post-Roe World

June 24, 2022

“We are entering a new era,” said Connor Semelsberger, the director of Federal Affairs, Life and Human Dignity at Family Research Council, following the Supreme Court’s decision to completely overturn Roe v. Wade.

The justices ruled 6-3 on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case concerning the constitutionality of a 15-week abortion law in Mississippi. In the final decision, the justices declared that “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortions is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”

“This is a day to celebrate,” Semelsberger said. “The overturning of Roe v. Wade is significant because its decision in 1973 has put the United States under one rule, which is legal abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy across our country. And so, for the first time in nearly 30 years, the court has made an unprecedented decision to right the wrong and restore the ability of the American people to protect unborn life.”

With this decision, many are left wondering what abortion laws will be enacted across the country. Family Research Council created a map detailing what abortion laws will look like in all 50 states post-Roe. The report focuses on six main categories of protections for the unborn — ranging from protecting life at conception to not protecting life at all.

“The most common policy we see are laws protecting life at conception. Now, those all have some degree of exceptions for either life of the mother or rape or incest,” Semelsberger explained.

Eighteen states have passed laws to protect unborn life at conception. In South Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, and Ohio abortions will be limited to when a fetal heartbeat can be detected — around five to six weeks of gestation.

Alternatively, 14 left-leaning states will continue to permit abortions at any stage of pregnancy under a so-called “health” exception. These states broadly define “health” to include the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of the mother. States like Oregon, Colorado, New Jersey, and three others are more extreme in that they have no laws in place protecting unborn life. In six states, abortions will remain legal at any point of the pregnancy and for any reason.

“There’s a set of states that will actually seek to protect life in the womb, as well as promote mothers and their ability to carry a pregnancy to term and have the resources they need,” Semelsberger explained. “Then you have a different set of states that have a completely different view, which is a woman’s right to her bodily autonomy supersedes any right unborn children have.”

Semelsberger called these drastic differences in abortion laws “competing worldviews.” 

Apart from returning the authority to regulate abortions to the states, Semelsberger emphasized that this decision also extends power to Congress, the executive branch, and courts across the country.

Semelsberger anticipates that the Supreme Court’s decision will spark violence around the nation. Since early May when the draft opinion on the Dobbs case was leaked, there have been over 50 instances of vandalism, theft, and arson to pregnancy resource centers, churches, and other pro-life organizations.

“Unfortunately, there have been messages from groups like Jane’s Revenge and others calling for ‘Nights of Revenge’ or a ‘Summer of Rage’ to respond to this decision,” he noted. “Those who are going to disagree with this decision — rather than [working through] the democratic process — are going to seek violence to respond to the court.”

Semelsberger pointed out that whether or not one supports abortion, this is a democratic decision that allows citizens to decide what is the best policy for regulating abortion in their state.

“If you’re pro-democracy — it doesn’t matter if you’re pro-life or pro-abortion — this decision allows your voice to be heard at the ballot box, whether through your elected representatives, through ballot referendums, or through getting engaged in the advocacy process,” Semelsberger observed.

“This is an era where our entire society can once again restore what we’ve always held true, which is that the right to life is unfettered,” he said. “Our country needs to support life in the womb and outside the womb as well as support those mothers that many times, unfortunately, are faced with crisis pregnancies. And so today we celebrate but there’s much work ahead that we are very excited for.”

To see how your state is poised to respond in this new post-Roe era, check out FRC’s map series

Deborah Laker serves as a staff writer at The Washington Stand.