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As more states restrict reproductive rights, abortion options dwindle


The state of Oklahoma is banning abortion again and again and again. Two separate bills have made it through the state legislature this week. Both allow lawsuits against people involved in abortions in the style of a recent Texas law. Weeks ago, Republican Governor Kevin Stitt signed a different bill that makes abortion a felony. Oklahoma is not waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on abortion that's expected later this year. So how much do these and other bills around the country matter?

Mary Ziegler is watching all this. She is a professor and legal historian at Florida State University College of Law. Good morning.

MARY ZIEGLER: Hi, Steve. How are you?

INSKEEP: How, if at all, are these laws in multiple states changing the availability of abortion?

ZIEGLER: Well, they obviously have a chilling effect because many people who are listening to this don't understand. If you live in the state of Oklahoma, it would be perfectly reasonable for you to think that abortion was already criminal. And SB8-style bills, Texas-style bills, can likely go into effect immediately, and that's going to have an effect not only in the state where they're enacted but in neighboring states as well because we know that there have already been people traveling from state to state because of restrictions already on the books.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking about the map here. If you were in Texas, if you were affected by the Texas law and you decided to go out of state, one of the obvious places to go would be Oklahoma, which doesn't seem so safe anymore.

ZIEGLER: Exactly, yeah. So we're - and we're going to see more and more of this as time goes on, especially if the Supreme Court does, as predicted, overrule Roe v. Wade. We're going to see really kind of entire regions out of business when it comes to abortion.

INSKEEP: In a practical sense, how does that affect women who are in that situation, given the current state of medical science, which is a little different than it was, I suppose, in 1972?

ZIEGLER: Well, it's different insofar as there's now medication abortion, and there are non-governmental organizations abroad that make abortion medication available or will mail it to you even in places where it's illegal. So at least for early abortions, self-managed medication abortion can be a safe option. With that said, there are going to be people who don't have internet access. There are going to be people who need to have abortions later in pregnancy. There are going to be people who have complications when they do have abortions, even with medication. So that's far from a perfect solution for people seeking abortions, but it's definitely a game changer compared to where we were in the '60s and '70s.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about the implications of a Supreme Court ruling. You mentioned that it's been widely predicted that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. We don't know that. We don't know precisely what the court will rule. We don't know if there is some nuance or subtlety here. But we do know that for many years, multiple states have had trigger laws on the books that would automatically ban abortion in the event of a Supreme Court ruling that made it possible. Now we have this new raft of laws that have been passed in recent months. How does the landscape change on the day after a Supreme Court ruling if it does in some way reduce or eliminate Roe v. Wade?

ZIEGLER: Well, if it reduces Roe v. Wade, then things get really complicated because we have both sort of zombie laws, pre-Roe bans and trigger laws. All of those need Roe v. Wade to be overturned to go into effect. And that would, of course, raise the question of what exactly just happened, right? Did the Supreme Court overrule Roe v. Wade, or did they just cut back? Is, you know, partially overruling Roe v. Wade enough? And the different laws have different mechanisms for determining that. Sometimes the attorney general needs to weigh in. Sometimes it's not even clear what would happen. So on the day after, there would be a lot of chaos. You would imagine, if the overruling is clear enough, that somewhere, you know, within weeks or, you know, in some cases a month after the overruling of Roe, all of those criminal laws would go into effect, and you would see essentially, you know, massive shutdowns of abortion clinics across large swaths of the South and Midwest.

INSKEEP: I guess we could also see massive lawsuits, given the nature of some of the laws being passed.

ZIEGLER: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we - and we would see - we would even see lawsuits, as I mentioned, about, you know, figuring out whether Roe v. Wade was, in fact, gone entirely or not.

INSKEEP: Do you assume that that chaos is in our near future, that the Supreme Court is going to change the Roe v. Wade standard in some way?

ZIEGLER: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I would be shocked if Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land in a few years. I mean, I think it's really just a question of if it happens this year or in the next few years. I think there's really - I would be shocked if the Supreme Court saved abortion rights in the long term.

INSKEEP: Mary Ziegler is a professor at Florida State University College of Law, also attached to Harvard. Thank you so much.

ZIEGLER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.