On the heels of their greatest victory, antiabortion activists are eager to capitalize on their momentum by enshrining constitutional abortion bans, pushing Congress to pass a national prohibition, blocking abortion pills, and limiting people’s ability to get abortions across state lines.
“It’s not over,” said Oklahoma state Rep. Todd Russ (R), who attended the conference. At this point, Russ said, the ideas are like “popcorn in a popcorn popper.”
“There are all kinds going around.”
The Supreme Court decision has already transformed America, immediately ending abortion care in eight states, with many more states poised to ban the procedure in the coming weeks and months. By the end of the year, abortion could be outlawed across roughly half the country. Former vice president Mike Pence and other GOP leaders have called for a national ban.
Democrat-led states are scrambling to enshrine protections for abortion, and President Biden has pledged to do everything in his power “to protect a woman’s right in states where they will face the consequences.” But Biden has also ruled out the more extreme remedies, such as expanding the Supreme Court, and key Democrats remain opposed to eliminating the Senate filibuster to protect abortion rights.
Given those limited options in a post-Roe America, antiabortion lawmakers are pushing to pass more restrictive abortion bans in their states.
Just moments after the Supreme Court released its decision on Friday, Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R) wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis, urging the Republican to call a special session that would allow the legislature to pass a six-week abortion ban.
The 15-week ban that DeSantis signed into law in April, which allows more than 90 percent of abortions to continue, does not go far enough, Sabatini said.
“The problem is not the governor … it’s cowards in the Republican legislature who have been blocking [the six-week ban],” said Sabatini. Now that Roe has fallen, he added, he is hopeful that the governor and the legislature will “respond to pressure.” (A DeSantis spokesman pointed toward the governor’s statement on Friday pledging to “expand pro-life protections.”)
Although most legislative sessions have adjourned for the year, governors in several states have indicated their interest in calling special sessions to pass additional antiabortion legislation. Republican Gov. Kristi L. Noem of South Dakota announced a session immediately after the Supreme Court decision, despite the fact that her state already has a “trigger ban.”
Republican governors in Indiana and Nebraska had also signaled their interest in reconvening to pass additional antiabortion legislation if the Supreme Court overturned Roe.
Other lawmakers are more concerned with protecting the restrictions they already have on the books.
In Missouri, where abortion was banned almost immediately after the decision came down, state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R) worries that the state Supreme Court may find protections for abortion in the Missouri Constitution, as other state courts across the country have done in recent years. On abortion-related issues, Coleman said, the state courts are out of step with the legislature, with a history of blocking legislation to defund Planned Parenthood facilities.
Right now, Coleman said, her priority is passing a constitutional amendment — by way of a statewide referendum — that makes clear there is no right to abortion in Missouri.
Coleman is also eager to restrict abortion across state lines, an idea she surfaced in legislation earlier this year and is now being discussed by antiabortion lawmakers across the country. The issue is particularly pertinent in Coleman’s home state of Missouri, where, even before Roe fell, thousands of people streamed across the Missouri-Illinois border for abortion care every year.
Coleman’s bill, which failed to pass in the 2022 legislative session, would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a Missouri resident access abortion outside the state, using the novel legal strategy behind the Texas abortion ban, which empowers private citizens to enforce the law through civil litigation.
Kristan Hawkins, president of the national antiabortion organization Students for Life, said she has been in talks with legislators in Missouri, and plans to bring a similar idea to a conference she’s hosting in D.C. this weekend, where over 200 antiabortion leaders will gather to discuss their post-Roe plans.
“I think we can say, ‘Look, if you travel out of state for an abortion, that abortionist can be held liable,’ ” Hawkins said.
Russ, of Oklahoma, is interested in cracking down on all the companies that have been voicing their support for abortion rights, offering to pay for their employees to access the procedure out of state.
JPMorgan, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Amazon and many others have recently announced new benefits to help employees access abortion services. “We are making this decision so our teammates can access the same health care options, regardless of where they live, and choose what is best for them,” Lauren Hobart, president and CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, said in a statement.
While Republicans are generally reluctant to impose restrictions on private corporations, Russ said, an exception should be made in this case.
“If somebody was driving the getaway car in a bank robbery … it is a very, very serious crime,” he said.
At this week’s conference in Branson, he said, he and his antiabortion colleagues discussed potential legislation to stop companies from funding abortions.
For Russ and other antiabortion lawmakers, limiting access to abortion pills is another top concern. Aid Access, an Austrian-based organization run by Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts, mails abortion pills to all 50 states, including over a dozen states that have banned abortion by mail. Their orders from Texas increased by over 1,000 percent when the state enacted its six-week ban.
Now that Roe has been overturned, demand for abortion pills online is expected to skyrocket.
“There’s definitely a way to crack down on that,” Russ said, noting that all the abortion bans include a ban on abortion pills. “The question is, is there a way to enforce it?”
National antiabortion advocates have been discussing this question at length, said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a national antiabortion organization. But she has yet to hear any perfect solutions.
Going forward, Dannenfelser says her top priority is helping women with unwanted pregnancies to get the help and support they need, plans that include increased funding for crisis pregnancy centers, antiabortion organizations that are often religiously affiliated.
The gold standard, she said, is Texas, where legislators secured $100 million in state funding for crisis pregnancy centers in the 2021 legislative session, a larger sum than any other state in the country.
Dannenfelser said she has discussed these ideas with 22 governors across the country, who have all been receptive to her suggestions. “We want to address her needs at a time when she really needs it,” Dannenfelser said.
“They want a holistic approach to their lives, so they are the masters of their own destinies.”
Abortion rights advocates view crisis pregnancy centers differently — as misleading clinics that they argue offer incorrect health information that can harm the women who seek care there.
At the National Association of Christian Lawmakers conference on Friday, the lawmakers paused the programming every time a new state announced the end of legal abortion.
Missouri “jumped out of the gate first,” within an hour of the decision, said Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert (R), who led the conference.
He noted the exact time the attorney general made the announcement in Arkansas. 2:17 p.m.
Still, Rapert said, he couldn’t stop thinking about all the other states where abortion would still be legal.
“You’ve got to abolish abortion in the entire country just like you abolished slavery in the entire country,” he said.
As the day went on, Russ said, legislators discussed how the Roe ruling might affect other “conservative family battles” that have been decided by the Supreme Court, including Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that granted a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The court’s decision on abortion, he added, might serve to highlight “just how many other things the Supreme Court has crammed down states’ throats over the last 50 years.”
He left the conference feeling optimistic about this new era in American history, he said.
“Now maybe we get to go back to all of our states’ rights.”