- By Robin Levinson-King
- BBC News
A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic ruling that ended the nationwide right to abortion, affecting the lives of millions of women and changing the political landscape.
On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which guaranteed women the right to an abortion at about 24 weeks.
In its Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health System decision, the court’s conservative majority shifted the power to regulate abortion — or outright ban it — to individual states.
The anti-abortion movement celebrated a major victory, while pro-choice activists warned of a public health crisis.
Here are four ways America changed this year:
1. Millions of women lost their right to abortion
After nearly half a century of fighting to topple Roe, opponents were ready to take advantage when that moment finally arrived. Thirteen states passed “stimulus bills” that helped begin the process of banning abortion immediately after the TOPS decision.
A year later, 14 states, including most in the South, have enacted near-total bans from the moment of conception. Georgia banned abortions after six weeks, which is before most women know they are pregnant.
That means about 22 million women of reproductive age live in a state where abortion is banned. According to the Goodmaker Instituterepresenting one-third of the total childbearing population.
Another five states have introduced bans after 12-20 weeks of pregnancy, while court challenges against stricter abortion limits are pending in five more states. Millions more women will lose access to this procedure.
“There’s a sense that the Roe decision is pushing us toward a future without abortion,” Kristen Hawkins, president of Students for Life, told the BBC last January during the annual March for Life protest.
And now the impact
But what access a woman has to an abortion depends on where she lives — and which party is in power there.
While many Republican-controlled states restrict access, several progressive states run by Democrats, such as California and Colorado, have introduced stronger legal protections.
2. American women had fewer abortions
Nearly one million abortions were performed in the U.S. in 2020, the last year for which full data is available, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The anti-abortion movement wants to eventually reduce that to zero, but hopes that state-level bans and stricter regulations will dramatically reduce the total.
We do not know the full impact of the laws brought in so far. however, Data provided by WeCountA research initiative funded by the pro-choice Society of Family Planning already suggests a significant impact.
According to WeCount, there were 24,290 fewer legal abortions between July 2022 and March 2023, compared to the average calculated in the months before the Dobbs decision. The program tracked abortions provided by clinics, private medical offices, hospitals, and virtual-only clinics, but did not track self-administered abortions.
Unsurprisingly, states with abortion bans showed the greatest decline. In contrast, legal abortions increased, but to a lesser extent, in neighboring states where the procedure was protected, particularly in Florida, Illinois, and North Carolina.
3. Women traveled great distances to obtain abortions
As illustrated by WeCount data, many women in states seeking abortions chose to travel across state lines. As many states pass bans, the nearest hospital offering abortion services can be hundreds of miles away.
This led to longer trips overall, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found.
The study mapped the average travel time from the survey areas to the nearest abortion clinic. Before TOPS, the average trip to a clinic ranged from 10.0 to 27.8 minutes. After TOPS, visits to the nearest clinic almost quadrupled, with top-end travel times averaging over 100 minutes.
Houston physician Dr. Judy Levison, who has been practicing for four decades and is part of a lawsuit challenging Texas’ ban, worries that it poses a barrier to low-income women, the majority of those who seek abortions.
“Where are they going to get an abortion? How are they going to travel, take care of children, take two days off work, maybe risk their job?” she told the BBC.
4. Support for abortion has increased
But in the year following the Supreme Court decision, public support for abortion actually increased. The same is true even where restrictions are imposed.
In 2019, 31% of people believed that abortion should be easier to access. But in 2023, after those restrictions go into effect, 46% of people think it should be eased, according to Pew polls.
How people view abortion is largely shaped by their politics — 84% of Democrats believe abortion should be legal in most cases, compared to 40% of Republicans. But when proposed abortion restrictions were directly on the ballot in conservative states, they failed.
During the 2022 midterm elections, ballot measures failed in Kentucky and Montana, giving Republicans a crunch. Bans and restrictions are popular with the conservative base, but they risk alienating moderate voters who believe abortion should be legal.
With reporting by Nada Tawfik and Holly Honderich
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