AMY FORLITI and GEOFF MULVIHILL / Associated Press
A federal court Tuesday allowed Tennessee to ban abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy, while in Texas — which is already enforcing a similar ban based on cardiac activity — a judge temporarily blocked an even stricter decades-old law from taking effect.
The moves embody a flurry of activity that was set off at courthouses across the country after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ruled that terminating a pregnancy is not a constitutional right.
Statewide bans or other restrictions that were either left on the books for generations, tied up by legal challenges or specifically designed to take effect if Roe were to fall are now in play as a result of last week’s Supreme Court ruling. Roughly half the states are expected to prohibit or severely limit the procedure now that the high court has left it up to them.
Since Friday, judges have agreed to allow bans or other restrictions to take effect in Alabama, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee. But abortion bans remained temporarily blocked in some states, including Louisiana, Texas and Utah. Decisions are pending in other places, including Florida and Indiana. Abortion rights advocates also dropped some of their legal efforts in Minnesota and Missouri.
Some clinics initially turned patients away soon after the high court ruling came down, but then reopened as judges ruled in their favor. That happened in Louisiana on Tuesday. And in Texas at least one abortion provider said it would reopen after the court ruling provided assurance that it could resume procedures for at least a few more weeks without risking prosecution.
Texas already bans most abortions after about six weeks — before many women know they are pregnant — under a law that took effect in September and makes no exception in cases of rape or incest. But a judge in Houston, a Democratic city in a conservative state, blocked enforcement for now of an even stricter law that calls for a statewide ban on virtually all abortions. That law has been on the books for decades but was nullified while Roe was in place.
In Tennessee, the action by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a ban that also specifically halts abortion once cardiac activity is detected comes before a “trigger law” is expected to further restrict abortion by mid-August, according to a legal interpretation by the state’s attorney general. Both measures would make performing an abortion a felony and subject doctors to up to 15 years in prison.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision opened the gates on a wave of litigation. One side is seeking to put statewide bans into effect swiftly, while the other is trying to stop or at least delay such measures.
Much of the court activity focused on “trigger laws” adopted in 13 states that were designed to take effect quickly upon last week’s ruling. Additional lawsuits could also target old anti-abortion laws that were left on the books in some states and went unenforced under Roe. Newer abortion restrictions that were put on hold pending the Supreme Court ruling are also coming back into play.
In Wisconsin, the Democratic attorney general filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging an abortion ban that has been on the books for 173 years. With Roe struck down, abortion opponents said the old law is now in effect, and abortion providers in the state have stopped offering the procedure. But Attorney General Josh Kaul argued that an abortion-friendly law passed in 1985 supersedes the older law.
Abortion rights supporters gathered at the South Carolina Statehouse Tuesday. Merritt Watts, who moved to South Carolina from California last year, said if she still lived in California, she would have “completely different rights.”
“I used to think of red states as someone else’s problem, but it’s not,” the Charleston resident said. “They deserve what Californians have.”
Forliti reported from Minneapolis and Mulvihill from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Jamie Stengle contributed from Dallas. Other Associated Press writers across the U.S. also contributed.