Abortion rights advocates and health care experts have warned for years that should Roe v. Wade be overturned much of the South would become an abortion desert.
This is a region where access to abortion care has already been limited due to the complex web of restrictions states have passed that oversee when, where, and how patients can access this procedure.
In recent years, states across the region have passed increasingly restrictive bans on abortion, written to be enforced if Roe, the landmark 1973 case legalizing abortion nationally, was overturned.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe, effectively making it possible for states to move to enact these laws. In the hours following the ruling state attorney generals across the region announced steps to enforce bans, effectively making the procedure illegal in most cases across a widening swath of the South.
Louisiana is among the 13 states that have abortion bans written to be enforced following Roe’s reversal. The state’s 2006 law, which was recently updated to increase criminal penalties on abortion providers, went into effect immediately following the ruling, according to a statement from state attorney general Jeff Landry on Twitter.
This means that all three of Louisiana’s abortion clinics must close — Delta Clinic of Baton Rouge, Women’s Health Care Center in New Orleans and Hope Medical Group in Shreveport.
Although Alabama is not among the states that have passed a trigger ban, the state has a pre-Roe era abortion ban on the books among other restrictions that will likely take effect soon.
Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall said in a statement that his office intends to eliminate an injunction against Alabama’s 2019 abortion ban, which makes the procedure illegal in almost all cases and provides no exceptions for victims of sexual assault.
“Any abortionist or abortion clinic operating in the State of Alabama in violation of Alabama law should immediately cease and desist operations,” Marshall said in the statement.
Friday’s ruling centers around a 2018 Mississippi law that outlawed abortion after 15 weeks. Mississippi also has a trigger ban that is written to go into effect within 10 days after state attorney general Lynn Fitch certifies the Supreme Court ruling.
Abortion remains legal in Mississippi for now and Fitch did not specify how she intends to proceed with the state’s trigger ban.
“We intend to give the opinion and the analysis contemplated by the law the thoughtful attention they deserve,” Fitch said on Friday.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson praised the ruling in a statement on Friday morning, “I have always thought Roe v. Wade was bad policy, was wrongly decided, and not supported by the Constitution.” He added that the ruling does not outlaw abortion nationally but allows each state to decide.
South Carolina does not have a ban on abortion but has a six-week ban on abortions that could go into effect following legislative action.
Tennessee has a trigger ban from 2019 that would take effect within 30 days, but the attorney general there is looking to enforce a six-week ban on abortion sooner than that.
Supporters on either side respond to ruling
Emily Berisso, the lead volunteer at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Midtown Memphis, has known this day was coming. From her post, she can see people walking up from the parking lot, people leaving the clinic and the handful of protestors on the sidewalk who may try to talk to them in between.
So she unfurls her pink umbrella, pulls the visitors close and shuttles them to and from the clinic door. The news is here, she tells them, because the Supreme Court made its decision today. The federal right to abortion was overturned.
She wrings her hand on the umbrella talking about what will be lost when trigger laws, like the one in Tennessee, halt abortions.
“No one wanted to believe that this would actually happen,” Berisso said. “But they have stripped more than half of this country of bodily autonomy today.”
For now, abortion is still legal in Tennesee. Berisso isn’t surprised that the state is pushing for the courts to quickly lift a hold on a Tennessee law. Until then, she expects the number of protestors to swell in attempts to prevent any more abortions.
In Nashville, Pastor Scott Hord and several others were standing outside Planned Parenthood around 11 a.m. Friday holding signs reading “let us help you” and “we care about you.” Hord said he started a ministry in 2015 to convince women not to have abortions and to offer them support in every way it can — be it work, counseling, finances, transportation or otherwise. He said his group convinced a woman to not have an abortion today, alongside more than 400 others since he started his ministry.
Hord’s group members alerted each other when slow-moving cars drove by. They were quick to wave, smile and engage in conversation if people stopped. A woman in a car stopped to express her anger over the Supreme Court’s decision while Hord and his teammates quietly listened. He said they try to also keep watch for people throwing things at them or becoming confrontational.
While he supports the court’s decision, he also said he’s not trying to start a fight.
“We’re not here to shame people. We’re not here to condemn people,” Hord said. “We’re here to help people.”
A few steps away, Father Danny Kinkead of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church was standing quietly, praying with a rosary in his hands as he looked toward the clinic. He said he’s glad the Supreme Court decision puts abortion rights back into the hands of the states. But today, he said, his mind is on the many people feeling hopeless and alone after the ruling.
“This is not a day where we can take our signs, go home and put our feet up,” he said. “It’s a day where we need to start working and letting women know that we’re here for them…. This is not a day to bring out the banners and celebrate. It’s a day to move on and see that we have some work to do. I hope that we can come together as a country and see that happen.”
Abortion protected in North Carolina
North Carolina will become a focal point in upcoming months with abortion expected to become illegal in many of its neighboring states.
North Carolina would be one of the few states in the southeast where abortion care is expected to remain legal. Other nearby states where the procedure is expected to remain legal include Illinois and Kansas.
The state will likely be the nearest abortion provider for over 11 million women ages 15 to 49 in much of the southeast now that Roe is overturned and states move to ban abortion. That’s up from 230,000 women currently, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Abortion rights are expected to remain protected in the state in the near future, as North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has publicly vowed to veto any anti-abortion bill that makes its way through the legislature.
“For 50 years, women have relied on their constitutional right to make their own medical decisions, but today that right has been tragically ripped away. That means it’s now up to the states to determine whether women get reproductive health care, and in North Carolina, they still can. I will continue to trust women to make their own medical decisions as we fight to keep politicians out of the doctor’s exam room,” he said in a statement.
The state passed a 20-week ban on abortions that was unenforceable until now. While abortion access is expected to remain protected in the state in the near future, anti-abortion advocates are working to push regulations to limit access.
“In North Carolina, our work is only beginning. Our laws should recognize that life is a human right,” said Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald of the North Carolina Values Coalition. “Our lawmakers now have an opportunity to protect lives and ensure women and families are supported.”
Contributing: Laura Testino, Commercial Appeal (Memphis); Rachel Wegner, The Tennessean; Brian Lyman, Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser; Paul Woolverton, USA TODAY NETWORK – North Carolina; Sarah Sheridan, Greenville (South Carolina) News; Robert Perlis, the Clarion-Ledger; Greg Hilburn, Lafayette Daily Advertiser; Melissa Brown, The Tennessean.
Maria Clark is a general assignment reporter with The American South. Story ideas, tips, questions? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @MariaPClark1. Sign up for The American South newsletter. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.