In the late hours of September 1st, the conservative-leaning Supreme Court declined to stop a radical anti-choice bill in Texas called SB 8 from being enacted in the state. That bill bans abortions at six weeks (amounting to a near-total ban on abortion in the first place, as over 85 percent of abortions in Texas are done after six weeks) and deputizes private citizens to report, and sue, any person suspected of helping someone else obtain an abortion after that point. The most restrictive abortion law in the country, and the Supreme Court’s refusal to weigh in on the constitutionality of the law, has functionally meant that Roe v. Wade has been overturned and that many states can change their abortion laws in the meantime. So, what are the abortion laws by state? Where are the states where abortion is legal? And what are your options if you do need an abortion? Where is abortion illegal and at what point in pregnancy do those laws take effect?
By declining to stop the bill from taking place, the Supreme Court essentially overturned Roe v. Wade. What that means in the meantime is that Texas currently has the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country; what that means in the future is that other states will almost certainly follow suit and create similar laws. That also means that abortion laws by state now vary widely and will continue to change. So we made a map that shows states where abortion is legal. The map shows just how different abortion laws are by state.
As part of its work, the international reproductive health organization the Guttmacher Institute tracks the status of legislation and judicial decisions regarding abortion at the state level. Using its data, and recent news, we assembled maps that describe the current state of abortion in the US and answer important questions about the procedure.
Abortion is no “legal” everywhere – but legality, and access, varies widely
Abortion is legal in the United States, but legality does not equal access, and even though abortion is legal, restrictions vary by state.
Of those restrictions, for instance, all but seven states limit how far into a pregnancy a person is allowed to terminate their pregnancy.
Twenty-two states ban abortion between 13 and 24 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period before pregnancy.
One state, Virginia, has a ban on third-trimester abortions, those that take place at 25 or more weeks.
The other twenty states impose a ban not after a certain period of time has elapsed but rather at “viability,” defined as the point at which a fetus can survive outside the uterus under normal conditions. Viability can happen anywhere from 24 to 28 weeks after the start of a woman’s last menstrual period. It’s something that must be determined on an individual basis by a physician.
And just one state, Texas, recently passed and enacted a bill that bans abortion at six weeks, which is basically a total ban on abortion. Anyone who gets an abortion after that point will be breaking the law; anyone who helps them obtain that abortion (financially, with transport, by driving the Uber to the clinic, etc) after that point can be sued in court for up to $ 10,000. If the person being sued loses, and they are an abortion provider, their clinic will close, if they win, they will not be able to recoup any attorney’s fees.
All of these bans contain exceptions for the life of the pregnant person, and many of the bans — but not all of them — include similar exceptions for their general or physical health.
What other abortion restrictions are there?
In the absence of federal law on abortion, every state has its own rules including, and beyond, the aforementioned restrictions on when women can seek out an abortion.
Texas has, of course, changed the game on abortion in the country with their new abortion laws, and other states will soon file suit. But in the meantime, there are already plenty of legal obstacles for people who can get pregnant to get abortions across the country.
Numerative anti-choice legislators have gotten creative in creating rules that restrict the access women have to this particular kind of healthcare without technically running afoul of previously established Supreme Court precedence. Heartbeat bans, hospital requirements, waiting periods, and more are all crafty ways that lawmakers can make abortion harder to access. These lawmakers also sometimes pass laws that violate Roe in order to bait the Court to take up a new case and establish a newer, more anti-choice precedence.
A federal ban on “Partial-birth” abortion was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007’s Gonzales v. Carhart, with an exception for when the life of the mother is in danger but, crucially, not when her health is otherwise in danger. The law itself does not include a “precise medical definition”Of what is banned, but the Court found that it made the dilation and extraction method illegal.
Twenty-one states have their own “partial-birth” laws, 13 of which resemble the federal statute and seven of which are presumably unenforceable thanks to another Supreme Court decision.
Forcing a delay in the procedure is also a popular tactic among anti-choice legislators; half of states require a waiting period between 24 and 72 hours. Twelve dictate that counseling they require for a person to get an abortion take place before the waiting period begins, necessitating two separate trips to the provider. That can make abortion harder for people to access.
Thirty-three states require women to hear counseling before an abortion is performed, which in addition to taking time forces doctors to deliver information to women they would not likely communicate otherwise. According to Guttmacher,
- 27 states require women to be told about the risks of abortion, many of which are medically inaccurate
- 25 require women to be given information about the specific procedure they are going to experience
- 31 require the woman to be told the gestational age of the fetus
- 27 require the woman to be told about fetal development throughout pregnancy
- 13 require the woman to hear about the ability of a fetus to feel pain
- 5 require the woman to be told personhood begins at conception
Twenty-eight states have created written materials for women seeking abortions, with 11 requiring they be given and 17 mandating that they merely be offered.
Twenty-six states have a provision on pre-abortion ultrasoundsranging from the four that force women to undergo, view, and hear a description of the ultrasound, to the six that require women to be given the opportunity to see the ultrasound image.
Thirty-two states require that a licensed physician provide medication abortionsbarring midlevel providers like physician assistants and advanced practice nurses to do so, which the World Health Organization and others say is perfectly safe.
What happens if Roe v. Wade is struck down?
Right now, the abortion advocates and lawyers are watching and waiting to see just how much the Supreme Court’s decision on Texas will reshape abortion law across the country. Because the bill relies on private enforcement of the violation of the law, the Supreme Court claims their hands are tied for now. That basically means that Roe is over and that abortion access is now a states’ problem, but things could change if the law is somehow struck down.
In the meantime, families, kids, pregnant people, people trying to become pregnant, and those who wish to terminate their pregnancies will suffer.
While 14 states explicitly protect the right to abortion, half of the country could quickly work to all but ban it in their own states just like Texas did. States that offer abortions could quickly become overwhelmed by people who can afford to travel for abortions, and those who can not will be forced to carry their pregnancies to term, which could potentially endanger them or the lives of their children.