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: Roe v. Wade overturned: When do abortion-ban trigger laws go into effect?


The Supreme Court’s reversal on Friday of Roe v. Wade, the watershed 1973 ruling that recognized a constitutional right to abortion access, will have a seismic and swift impact.

So-called trigger laws banning abortion in three states — Kentucky, Louisiana and South Dakota — will immediately go into effect now that the court has overruled Roe and left abortion regulations entirely up to the states.

In addition to those three states, a ban in Oklahoma enacted last month outlaws nearly all abortions from the point of fertilization.

That’s only the start for 13 states with laws that will quickly ban abortion except for in limited circumstances in light of Roe’s demise, according to researchers at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health think tank that supports abortion access.

The ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization reflected an initial draft leaked in May that showed the court’s conservative majority was ready to finish Roe’s legal reign.

“The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and [Planned Parenthood v. Casey] are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives,” read the majority opinion published Friday.

There are 26 states — including the 13 with trigger laws on the books — where abortion access will be curtailed in a post-Roe world, according to estimates from Guttmacher and elsewhere.

Roughly one-quarter of the country’s abortion clinics could eventually close, according to data from the University of California San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program. The 202 clinics would be clustered in the Southeast and Midwest, the researchers noted.

Here’s a look at the possible sequence of events in the coming hours, days and weeks:

Possibly ‘only hours or a couple of days’

There are the trigger bans that go into effect immediately. But in “only hours or a couple of days,” Guttmacher Institute researchers say, the trigger laws in another slew of states could kick in once the necessary certification comes from state officials.

The precise timing is hard to pin down, said professor Naomi Cahn, the co-director of the University of Virginia School of Law’s Family Law Center, who has surveyed the range of trigger laws. “It could certainly happen very quickly,” she said.

Like everything else in law, it depends. “The question is just how clear Dobbs will be, and whether that satisfies the specific trigger language in the specific states,” she said, speaking to MarketWatch ahead of the ruling. Besides, it’s one thing to have laws on paper and another thing to enforce them, she noted.

In Arkansas, the state’s attorney general has to certify Roe v. Wade is at least partially overturned before its trigger law goes into effect. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has said she’s ready to sign off.

Mississippi and Missouri’s bans both spring to action following attorney-general certification in the respective states. For Mississippi, the ban is effective 10 days after the certification, according to KFF, a healthcare think tank. The state’s 15-week ban, which makes exceptions for limited circumstances like medical emergencies, was at the center of the Dobbs case.

Utah’s ban requires certification from the statehouse’s legislative counsel, while Wyoming’s law takes effect five days after the governor, after advisement from the attorney general, certifies that Roe has been vacated.

Oklahoma also has a 2021 trigger law, which passed before its more recent law blocking abortions at the point of fertilization. The trigger law requires attorney-general certification.

30 days after the decision

Idaho’s ban takes effect 30 days after any Supreme Court decision “that restores to the states their authority to prohibit abortion.” North Dakota’s ban needs 30 days to take effect as well, coming after the legislative council approves a recommendation from the attorney general.

The bans in Texas and Tennessee happen 30 days following a Supreme Court ruling that at least partially overturns Roe and gives back the power to states to ban abortion. Texas already has a law prohibiting abortion after about six weeks into a pregnancy, before many people are aware they’re pregnant.

Other time frames

From this point, time tables on laws narrowing abortion access become murkier. That’s because they get may get mixed up in court motions, as well as questions about whether state legislatures are in session and whether lawmakers are willing and have the votes to further restrict access.

For example, lower federal courts have blocked Georgia’s own six-week abortion ban. With Roe overturned, lawyers for the state of Georgia could double back to court and ask that the injunction be dissolved, said Cynthia Soohoo, a professor and co-director at the City University of New York’s Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, who also spoke to MarketWatch before the ruling was released.

Meanwhile, the states with abortion bans before Roe v. Wade now have a plausible route to revive those restrictions in the wake of the Dobbs decision. Arizona and Michigan are two of the nine states with abortion bans that were once in effect.

Arizona in April enacted an abortion ban after the 15-week mark. Gov. Doug Ducey at the time said that was “the law of the land today in Arizona … And that will remain law.”

In Michigan, a judge blocked enforcement of the state’s inactive pre-Roe ban. The state attorney general’s office did not fight the case or press an appeal.

But elections could change that, KFF researchers said. “If the incumbent Democrat loses the 2022 election, the new attorney general could choose whether to defend the pre-Roe ban,” they said.

The state’s current governor, Gretchen Whitmer, supports abortion access. But the nonprofit Center for Reproductive Rights, which supports access to abortion, says “Michigan lawmakers will likely try to prohibit abortion” and notes that “numerous restrictions make it difficult to access abortion care in the state.”

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