© 2023 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Abortion Rights Groups Prepare For Intensified Battle At The State Level


The Supreme Court could soon shift to the right on some key issues if Judge Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to replace retiring justice Anthony Kennedy. Abortion rights advocates are concerned that the newly configured court might reverse or substantially erode Roe v. Wade, the decision guaranteeing a woman's right to an abortion. Under that scenario, states could have free rein to restrict the procedure. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, reproductive rights activists are already taking up the fight over abortion in state legislatures.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Before Roe v. Wade, abortion was regulated by the states, and most abortions were illegal in most of the country. Leslie McGorman of NARAL Pro-Choice America says a lot of those laws are still on the books but not enforced.

LESLIE MCGORMAN: No one ever really thought they needed to be removed from the books because there wasn't a threat quite like we we're on the precipice of seeing. But now states are taking a new look.

MCCAMMON: That's because if Roe is eventually overturned or significantly weakened, those laws could go back into effect. McGorman says NARAL is working to block Judge Kavanaugh's nomination. But as a second line of defense, the group is urging state lawmakers and local activists to take action in the next legislative session to remove restrictive laws and pass new protections for abortion.

MCGORMAN: And so we're not going to wait until January. I mean, we're already talking to our affiliates and chapters about what they can do to be prepared now.

MCCAMMON: McGorman says NARAL will offer model legislation that lawmakers could use to enshrine abortion rights in state statute. Agata Pelka of the Center for Reproductive Rights says her group is working to make it easier for nurse practitioners and physician assistants to offer the procedure. In a post-Roe scenario, she says, women from states with abortion bans would likely travel to places with more liberal laws like New York or California.

AGATA PELKA: So it's really important to increase the number of providers in states generally because we have a big access problem in rural areas even in states like in New York. And it's important in today's context because it would increase the number of providers in case there's an influx of patients from other states.

MCCAMMON: Anti-abortion rights groups say they're also prepared for an intensified battle in state legislatures. David O'Steen is with the National Right to Life Committee.

DAVID O'STEEN: The emphasis might change, but the pro-life lobbying and the pro-life activism and organization would continue. We want to pass of course the most protective laws we can.

MCCAMMON: O'Steen says his group would like to see a national ban on all abortions except to save a woman's life. But he says sending the issue back to the states would be a step in the right direction. Mallory Quigley of the anti-abortion rights group Susan B. Anthony List says she'd expect intense battles in many states.

MALLORY QUIGLEY: We're likely to have a vigorous debate which has previously been prevented by Roe v. Wade to find consensus about how we treat unborn children and women in this country.

MCCAMMON: Quigley praised a new Iowa law currently held up in court that would prohibit the procedure as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, often around six to eight weeks, before many women know they're pregnant. It's the type of legislation that could make its way to a newly configured Supreme Court as a test of Roe v. Wade. Abortion rights groups say their main focus is still blocking Kavanaugh's confirmation. Pelka with the Center for Reproductive Rights says no amount of activism at the state level could replace the federal protections contained in Roe.

PELKA: That's one of the reasons why this fight is so important, because even though states can do things to improve access, there is a good number of states that have for years been trying to erode access. And they are actually I think looking forward to more opportunities to do that.

MCCAMMON: Advocates on both sides are spending millions of dollars on ads and grass-roots lobbying campaigns on Kavanaugh's Senate confirmation fight, which could be a preview of more battles to come in the states. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRONTIDE'S "CARAMEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.