The Supreme Court has overturned Roe. What happens next in Texas?
After the Supreme Court's reversal of 50 years of precedent for the constitutional right to an abortion, one of the nation's strictest abortion bans is set to become even more restrictive.
Women already can't get an abortion in Texas if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which happens as early as five or six weeks into a pregnancy. With Friday's high court ruling, a trigger law further narrowing eligibility for the procedure is set to go into effect.
NPR's Ashley Lopez has been covering abortion in Texas for KUT for many years. She joined All Things Considered to talk more about the response from abortion providers in the state, and what comes next for Texans in search of a safe abortion.
The conversation has been edited lightly for clarity.
KUT: What are the current abortion restrictions here in Texas and how will the state's trigger law make them even more extreme?
Lopez: What Texas has right now is a ban on abortions past six weeks into a pregnancy, which is before many people even know they're pregnant. Since September, it's been one of the strictest abortion bans in the country. But now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, within 30 days of a judgment coming down, Texas will have a trigger ban in effect. That means all abortions at any stage in a pregnancy — except to save the life of a woman or to avoid major bodily harm to a woman — are banned.
This will be a place where the procedure is pretty much inaccessible. So we're going from a very small window, six weeks, to an all-out ban once the trigger ban goes into effect.
Can you give us some clarity on when we expect this trigger law to go into effect? What have we heard from Texas officials regarding it?
Well, I'm just going to draw from our attorney general, Ken Paxton. He sent an advisory out about this, and what he said was that a judgment hasn't come down yet. And the opinion of the attorney general of Texas, which actually holds a lot of weight, [says the trigger law goes into effect] 30 days from when a judgment [from the Supreme Court] comes down, which could happen in about a month or so. So that that will be when the clock will start on 30 days.
However, he also wrote that prosecutors can choose to immediately pursue criminal prosecutions on prohibitions on abortion that pre-date Roe. Roe was a sort of a block to those laws before — that doesn't exist anymore. This is the big legal question before abortion providers. So in effect, right now, we still only have the six-week ban. But Paxton says that prosecutors can go as far back as, you know, any abortion law that was passed prior to Roe.
What have you heard from abortion providers in the state in response to the court's ruling?
Well, because of all this murkiness in the law from from what they can see, they've decided to hit a pause on providing abortions, full stop. Whole Woman's health, which has four clinics in Texas, and I think all the Planned Parenthood affiliates, they are not providing abortions today. They're pretty overwhelmed with all the sort of legal questions before them, but more than that, they're really sad. This is a very sad day for people who believe in abortion rights and groups that provide abortions, who obviously feel very strongly about that particular constitutional right. So this is a big day for them. A sad day.
There's a lot of frustration, also resolve. I heard a lot of abortion providers say the fight isn't over. They're going to continue to serve their clients the best way possible, you know, within the means of the law. So it's just it's a big day and for abortion providers, a pretty frustrating day.
What options are left now for Texans who want an abortion at this moment?
Within the confines of the law, right now you can still get an abortion in Texas. Presumably once this pause is over, if providers feel like they can provide abortions until the trigger ban goes into effect — which is still being figured out — but at the moment, you're going to have to go out of state. Eventually you might be able, in a small window, to get an abortion up to six weeks, but that's not clear. What the future looks like and what today looks like is, if you're in Texas and you need an abortion, you need to leave the state. And if you can't, the path before you is very narrow.
There are resources for people who are lower income and can't afford to travel. There are abortion funds in the state that are helping people get out. I think abortion providers also have these services for people who need the procedure and they're sending them elsewhere. But, you know, it's not a small thing. Leaving the state for a medical procedure is not something that everyone can do at the drop of a hat. And with most medical things, especially abortions, there's definitely a clock. So I think the future is not a lot of options for people who live in Texas and are seeking an abortion.