The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Louisiana reveals the war on rights that is coming if Roe is overturned

Information is displayed at the Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, La., on April 19. (Francois Picard/AFP/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

With the Supreme Court considering whether to overturn Roe v. Wade, Louisiana House Republicans advanced this past week an antiabortion bill of astonishing sweep. The proposal would rewrite the state’s homicide statute to “ensure the right to life and equal protection of the laws to all unborn children from the moment of fertilization by protecting them by the same laws protecting other human beings.” In other words, not only would the bill empower Louisiana prosecutors to charge women who get abortions with murder, it appears to declare the use of in-vitro fertilization, intrauterine devices and emergency contraception to be homicide, too.

For half a century, Americans could more or less take for granted their right to terminate their pregnancies, seek help starting families or get IUDs. Many might not realize how dramatically overturning Roe would reshape American life. Some deny this reality, arguing that, should the Supreme Court repudiate Roe, as a draft majority opinion that leaked earlier this month suggests it might, the United States would resemble Europe, where first-trimester abortion is legal nearly everywhere. In fact, overturning Roe would result in the immediate banning of abortion in the 13 states that have antiabortion laws designed to kick in as soon as Roe is gone. Republican leaders in Nebraska, South Dakota and Indiana are calling for legislative special sessions to pass sweeping new abortion restrictions.

Henry Olsen

counterpointThe leak is a shock. What the draft decision says is not.

And Louisiana shows that, given the option, right-wing lawmakers are poised to wage a broad war against reproductive rights that would horrify most Americans. It might be that wealthy people in states run by antiabortion zealots would be able to cross state lines to terminate their pregnancies or to seek other family planning options. (Though some Republicans want to try to ban that, too.) But poor people would be unable to get safe, legal abortions. On top of the health risks they would face seeking illicit abortions, in Louisiana these individuals might also risk being prosecuted for murder. Given that many women seek abortions because they would struggle to carry their pregnancies to term while caring for the families they already have, the bill would be a particularly cruel twist that would threaten the families who are least capable of facing such hardship.

If Roe were egregiously wrong, as Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. claims in the leaked draft opinion, the justices would have to weigh whether enabling such drastic and immediate consequences would be good for the orderly application of the law. But the court need not make that tough call, because Roe was a reasonable ruling to which seven justices signed their names, and which the court upheld in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Other than the makeup of the court, the only thing that has changed in the past half-century is that Roe has become a keystone decision for Americans’ personal rights. Overturning it now would wound the nation, worsen the country’s politics and make some of the most vulnerable Americans more so. It would be the height of gratuitous judicial activism.