What Happens If The Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade?

5 min read|May 5, 2022|fbtwitteremail

Across the US, support for abortion is divided. If the decision from the leaked Supreme Court draft became official, Roe v. Wade would be overturned and states would control access to abortions. Some would immediately ban the practice. Others may ban abortion over time or restrict it further, while another set of states opts to protect a person's right to choose.

In the meantime, abortion remains legal nationwide. But as the Supremes get ready to announce their official ruling, many are questioning what America will look like in a post-Roe v. Wade world. The truth is, people’s reality may largely depend on where they live. Here’s how people’s lives and access to abortion could change…

More than 20 states would implement abortion bans

A number of individual states have already taken steps to restrict or ban abortion rights. Seema Mohapatra, a visiting professor at SMU Dedman School of Law, told “Skimm This” that states can also decide on criminalizing abortion. And even set limits on out-of-state abortions.

“It is possible that not only the physician that provides an abortion could be put in jail, but even the person that's seeking the abortion or has an abortion,” Mohapatra said. 

The Guttmacher Institute found that 26 states would enact abortion restrictions if Roe were reversed. Some states could look to their pre-Roe abortion bans that haven’t been enforced and revive them. Or enact so-called trigger laws, which are bans that go into effect as soon as Roe’s overturned. The extent of these bans may vary. But already states like Oklahoma and Texas have banned the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy. 

Design: Camille Rapay

In the meantime, many are wondering if the federal gov can or will take action. But given Congress’s record so far, experts are not holding their breath. 

“The White House is scrambling to figure out a federal response. And codification of the rights in Roe v. Wade is one of the options on the table,” Caroline Polisi, lecturer in law at Columbia Law School, said. “Unfortunately, it just doesn't seem like a realistic possibility politically.” 

But that doesn’t mean abortion would be completely outlawed because…

Abortion rights would be protected in more than a dozen states

While some states would ban the procedure, others have laws in place that protect the right to an abortion. Sixteen states and DC fall in that category, according to the Guttmacher Institute

In states like California, Illinois, and New York, abortion would remain legal until fetal viability (more on that here). And places like DC, Colorado, and Vermont would continue to allow the procedure at any stage of pregnancy.

Polisi said states are also working to pass new measures that would strengthen abortion protections.

“We're seeing many states on the other end of the coin coming out strongly, saying we are going to enact laws that actually provide much more robust protections for women,” Polisi said. “Even going beyond the framework that Roe and Casey upheld at a federal level.”  

Here’s a look at what some states have recently passed or have in the works:

  • Connecticut: In April, the state passed a law that protects abortion providers and patients from out-of-state laws, among other things.

  • California: The Golden State protects abortion rights in its constitution under a right to privacy. Now, the state’s taking steps to amend the constitution to specifically enshrine the right to choose and help those who might be seeking care. The question could be left up to voters in November. 

  • Vermont: In the midterm elections, voters will decide on whether to amend the state constitution so that personal reproductive liberty (including abortion) is clearly stated.

  • New York: Lawmakers there have intro’d at least four bills to further protect abortion rights. They range from a law similar to Connecticut’s, creating a fund for abortion access, protecting reproductive rights (abortions included), and insurance coverage for abortions.

  • Washington: In June, a state law will go into effect — protecting anyone who’s seeking an abortion in the state or anyone who helps them from a lawsuit. 

At the same time, states that don’t ban the procedure could see a spike in the number of patients seeking abortions. Case in point: After Texas’s six-week ban went into effect, Planned Parenthood clinics in neighboring states reported a nearly 800% increase in abortion patients from the Lone Star State. While some individuals will be able to travel to get the care they need, it won’t be possible for everyone. And that brings us to how…

Design: Camille Rapay

An end to safe abortions will greatly impact marginalized communities

Simply put: A reversal of Roe would not mean an end to abortions in every state. It would mean an end to safe abortions. On top of that, many already don’t have access to a supportive system after giving birth (think: paid family leave, child care, mental health care access). Here's what else people could be facing without access to safe abortions:

  • Pregnancy-related deaths could increase. The US has the highest maternal mortality rate for developed nations. And one 2021 study estimated there could be a 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths if abortions were banned nationwide. That translates to 140 more deaths in a year. Which brings us to…

  • A disproportionate impact for women of color. Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Plus, more than half of the Black population in the US lives in the South — where many bans would take place. Meaning, less access to the procedure. Speaking of… 

  • Access gets complicated. One analysis found that the average person may have to travel roughly 125 miles in the US to access an abortion provider. Compared to the current average of 25 miles. And many can’t afford to travel long distances to get the procedure done. And that takes us to…

  • Economic hardship could increase. The majority of people who get abortions are living at or below the poverty line. And many who get abortions have at least one child. Ending abortion access could affect a person’s opportunities to get an education, boost their income or build wealth. 

Psst: We’ve got more information on what the reversal could mean for your health here.


Remember: Abortion is still legal. But with the draft ruling, it appears things may change. And it’s important for Americans to have a clear picture of what could happen to abortion rights in each state. And what that would mean for their and other’s health options. 

Skimm'd by Maria del Carmen Corpus, Maria McCallen, and Kamini Ramdeen-Chowdhury

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