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States, Supreme Court Take Action on Abortion Bans

June 22, 2006

On June 17, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco signed a “trigger law” designed to ban almost all abortions in the event that the Supreme Court overturns its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision or the U.S. Constitution is amended to allow states to restrict abortion. Already this year, 14 states have introduced bills aimed at criminalizing abortion, including South Dakota. The South Dakota ban was scheduled to go into effect July 1, but opponents gathered enough signatures to defer implementation pending a statewide referendum in November.

Bans on abortion do not help women avoid unintended pregnancy—the underlying cause of most abortions—nor do they stop all abortions from taking place. Experience from the pre-Roe era suggests that banning abortion would create a two-tiered system—one that already exists to some extent today—in which affluent women would travel to other states or countries that allow abortions, while many poor women would resort to clandestine procedures that put their lives and health at risk. Rather than banning abortions, states seeking to reduce the need for abortion should focus on improving women’s access to contraceptive services, which can prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place.

In a separate development, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed on June 19 to broaden its review of the Federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 by examining additional challenges to the law’s constitutionality. The justices had already agreed in February to take up the issue in their next term. The court now has added a California case in which a federal appeals court struck down the Federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, finding that it posed an undue burden on women because the statute is so vague it could be interpreted to ban abortion procedures as early as 12–15 weeks. Today, 60% of abortions are performed at or before eight weeks’ gestation, and 90% are performed before 12 weeks’ gestation. The upcoming ruling may reveal whether the court has shifted significantly on abortion rights following the appointments of conservatives John G. Roberts and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Click for more information on:

States that have passed legislation to ban abortion in the absence of Roe v. Wade

The Federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003

The Supreme Court’s abortion-related activities

The impact of unsafe abortion on women’s health and lives

An update of new legislation introduced in the states