This year, 2019, has become a critical time for abortion rights, with an unprecedented surge of abortion bans sweeping across the United States.
Through June 1, some 26 abortion bans have been enacted in 12 states, and many more have been introduced by state legislators. Yet state efforts to undermine abortion rights and access have been under way since the 1973 decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton affirmed the constitutional right to abortion. During that time, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the right to abortion while also modifying the legal framework that shapes access to care. The Court has held that a state cannot ban abortion outright before fetal viability, and if restrictions are placed on postviability abortion, there must be exceptions to protect the patient’s life and health. Most recently, the Court upheld these principles in the 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which also clarified that when considering the constitutionality of abortion restrictions, courts must examine the evidence and balance any alleged benefits of a given restriction against the real-world burdens it imposes.