The Slatest

Where the Country’s Strictest Abortion Bans Now Stand

A crowd of demonstrators holding pro-life signs rallies in front of the Alabama state capitol.
Demonstrators rally against the state’s new abortion law at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, on May 19.
Reuters/Michael Spooneybarger/File Photo

On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked Alabama’s extreme abortion ban, which would charge doctors who perform abortions with a felony that could carry up to 99 years in prison.

The ban—which made abortion illegal from conception except when the mother’s health is in serious danger or the fetus is not viable, but with no exceptions for rape or incest—was set to go into effect on Nov. 15. Acting on a lawsuit that civil liberties and abortion groups filed jointly in May (immediately after the law was passed), District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the ban “contravenes clear Supreme Court precedent” and violates patients’ privacy.

But the matter isn’t settled. The injunction will remain in effect until the “court resolves the case in full.” Staci Fox, the president of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, has vowed to “continue fighting this law in court until it is permanently blocked.” State Attorney General Steve Marshall, in a filing in August, made it clear he meant not just to fight the suit but to challenge Roe v. Wade itself.

The case is not the only one that, in the spring, seemed to target Roe v. Wade with more severe abortion bans in the year after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Ohio, Missouri, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi all passed strict laws this year flouting the landmark Supreme Court ruling. Alabama’s abortion ban may have been the most radical of them all, but as one bill after another became law in other states, the news seemed bleak for abortion rights advocates across the country.

But challenges to those bans came swiftly, and as a result, none of those draconian laws have gone into effect yet. Here’s why—and where each of those laws stands now.

Ohio

The originator of 2019’s spate of “heartbeat bills,” Ohio passed its strict ban into law in April. The law threatened doctors with felony convictions and up to a year in prison, and it made no exceptions for rape or incest. Like Alabama, it did allow abortions in cases when the mother’s life was in danger.

In July, a federal judge blocked that ban, just a few days before it was set to go into effect. The judge nodded to Roe v. Wade and noted that many women would be unable to have access to an abortion at all if the cutoff were so early; a fetal heartbeat can usually be detected about six weeks into a pregnancy, or just two weeks after a missed period and before many women know they’re pregnant. The instigating lawsuit, filed by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU in May, is now working its way through the courts.

Missouri

A federal judge temporarily blocked Missouri from enforcing its ban on abortions after the eighth week of pregnancy in August, just one day before it was scheduled to go into effect. The judge also cited the likelihood the law would be found unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, and he blocked complementary backup measures attached to the law that would ban abortions at other later gestational periods. The judge did allow bans on abortions motivated by the baby’s sex, race, or a diagnosis of Down syndrome, meaning those restrictions did go into effect, but last month the same judge accepted new arguments on the effects of those measures and blocked them, too. The state appealed the ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will rule on the case in the coming months.

The ban isn’t the state’s only abortion fight; Missouri stands to become the first state in the country to have no abortion clinic since Roe v. Wade. The state attorney general is currently trying to shut down St. Louis’ Planned Parenthood clinic over alleged health and safety concerns. Planned Parenthood has taken the issue to the state’s administrative hearing commission, which is currently hearing the case. It is expected to make a decision next year, after February, at which point the losing side is likely to appeal the decision to the Missouri state court.

Kentucky

In March, Kentucky’s Legislature passed two abortion laws: one fetal “heartbeat bill” and one ban on abortions motivated by sex, race, or disability. Those carried “emergency” declarations and therefore became law immediately, but a federal judge quickly suspended both laws upon a challenge from the ACLU. Republicans in the Legislature have said they hope Kentucky could bring the case before the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to overturn Roe.

The Legislature also passed a string of other laws targeting abortion, such as one that forces doctors to tell patients that some abortions can be reversed, despite the fact that research does not support the claim, one that many medical professionals have complained is irresponsible.

Georgia

On Oct. 1, a federal judge temporarily blocked Georgia’s “heartbeat bill” that Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law in May. It would have gone into effect in January 2020. The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and other reproductive rights organizations filed the lawsuit in June, and the lawsuit is still waiting to be argued in court.

Mississippi

In May, a federal judge blocked Mississippi’s near-total abortion ban starting as early as six weeks into the pregnancy. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization sued to challenge the law, which made no exceptions for rape or incest and which would have revoked doctors’ medical licenses if they performed abortions. The law was scheduled to go into effect on July 1.

That same judge had ruled that Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban from the year before was unconstitutional, and Mississippi appealed that ruling. The state’s attorneys filed separate arguments about the more recent ban to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Louisiana

Louisiana also passed a near-total “heartbeat” abortion ban, but it also included a measure saying the law would not go into effect unless Mississippi’s similar bill was upheld in court. As a result, Louisiana’s abortion clinics are still free to function.

Elsewhere, early this month, the Supreme Court said it would review an earlier state law that mandated doctors at abortion clinics also have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals—a requirement that reproductive rights advocates have said would mean all but one of the state’s clinics would have to close. The law is nearly identical to a Texas law that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 2016. This ruling will be the first opportunity for the post-Kavanaugh Supreme Court to tackle abortion regulations.

Trigger laws

Arkansas, which previously passed an 18-week abortion ban that was blocked in court, is one of several states to have passed a “trigger” law that would automatically ban all abortions not including medical emergencies if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Dakota, and South Dakota all have passed similar “trigger” bans.