Ann Pappert

(WOMENSENEWS)–Like most other women concerned with abortion rights, I’ve focused on what would happen if Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision protecting women’s right to have a legal abortion, was overturned.

But after working as communications consultant at the Center for Reproductive Rights, and reading their new report, "What If Roe Fell?" I now realize that the abortion battleground is also in the states. And more than ever, I’m convinced that anyone who saysthe threats to Roe are exaggerated is trying todisengage women from the very real threat that faces a woman’s access to a safe and legal abortion.

There’s little doubt that the re-election of George Bush would bring us to the threshold of a reversal of Roe, since he’s likely to fill any vacancy on the Supreme Court with anti-choice judges.

In the event that Roe were to be overturned, the power to regulate abortion would revert back to the states.

Is this really something to worry about?

Yes. Restrictive abortion laws have been passed in state after state, even when a pro-choice President and Congress were in charge. Many of these laws were passed by anti-choice proponents in the hopes that any legal challenge could reach the Supreme Court. Once there, a ruling to uphold a state abortion ban might nullify Roe.

Nothing to Fear

For years, I’ve listened to anti-choice conservatives tell women that the pro-choice movement exaggerates the threat to Roe, and that even if it were reversed we’d have nothing to fear.

Pundits, such as the New Republic’s Jeffrey Rosen, claim that only a few states would pass laws restricting abortion; that the right has backed off the abortion battle.

Earlier this year, I listened as Lisa Schiffrin–a Republican Party strategist best known as the author of Dan Quayle’s famous "Murphy Brown" speech attacking single mothers–told several hundred people at a taping of a New York City radio forum that everyone knows that the right wing has conceded defeat when it comes to abortion.

This, however, was only months after Congress, in November 2003, passed a federal ban on abortions that has since been ruled unconstitutional by three federal district courts and which, by the way, is so vaguely worded that abortions after 12 weeks could have been prohibited.

Don’t Listen

So don’t listen to people like Rosen and Schiffrin.

Far from backing off, anti-choice proponents have been working furiously on a state level for years, passing law after law against abortion, from legislation banning abortions outright to laws mandating waiting periods or requiring biased, anti-choice counseling.

According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, the leading pro-choice organization, since 1995 alone, state legislatures have passed 380 measures restricting abortions and a reversal of Roe would add fuel to the fire.

"What If Roe Fell?" is the first detailed state-by-state analysis of the effect of a reversal of Roe and the report makes it clear that the end of Roe could spell an end to abortion rights for most American women.

According to the report, only 20 states are likely to have protections against abortion bans if Roe falls. Only 10 states offer constitutional guarantees for abortion.

That leaves 70 million women of reproductive age in 30 states at immediate risk of losing their right to choose.

New Life for Old Bans

In some states existing laws banning abortion have never been challenged and are only held in check by Roe. Alabama’s pre-Roe abortion law, for instance, has never been blocked by any court. If Roe is lifted, doctors who perform abortions in that state would immediately be vulnerable to the accusation that they were committing a felony.

Other states have abortions bans on the books that have been blocked by the courts. In these states, with anti-choice governors and legislatures, officials would likely move quickly to lift these injunctions and restore restrictive abortion legislation.

Take Michigan for instance. Its abortion ban was blocked by the courts shortly after the original Roe decision in 1973. If Roe were reversed, officials in Michigan could ask the courts to restore the ban.

Still other states have legislatures likely to enact anti-choice laws.

Although Ohio has no pre-Roe abortion law, neither does it have a state constitutional guarantee to abortion. And neither does it have pro-choice political leadership. Both Ohio’s governor and its state legislature are anti-choice, leaving the state wide open to banning abortion altogether if Roe were to be reversed.

Risk Rankings

The report also identifies 21 states where women are at a high risk of losing their right to choose: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Nine states are at moderate risk: Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

The 20 states where abortion rights would likely be protected are: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

When Schiffrin downplayed the right wing’s concern with abortion, it was only days after the massive pro-choice march in Washington last April, when upwards of a million people voiced their support for reproductive choice.

By the way she spoke about pro-choice activists you would have thought we were the lunatic fringe: a bunch of paranoid radicals unwilling and unable to accept the fact that abortion rights were no longer at risk.

"What if Roe Fell?" debunks any such idea. It also makes it clear why reassurances about the permanence of abortion guarantees must be considered suspect. We must see these tactics for what they really are: a strategy to lull pro-choice supporters into a false sense of comfort and keep them from getting involved and to marginalize those of us who already are.

As the report from the Center for Reproductive Rights so clearly shows us, now is precisely the time for anyone who wants to support abortion rights to get involved.

Ann Pappert has spent over two decades as a journalist and activist, working on women’s issues. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.



For more information:

Center for Reproductive Rights–
"What If Roe Fell?":

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