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What states are looking to do with abortion legislation in 2023

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Many state lawmakers will be returning to their capitals in the new year with vastly different legal landscape surrounding abortion rights than the ones they left last year. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, the landmark Supreme Court decision overturning decades of abortion rights precedent is reshaping the fight over abortion policy at the state level.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Since 1973, Roe v. Wade had guaranteed the right to abortion.

KATIE GLENN: It's been sort of this immovable wall.

MCCAMMON: Katie Glenn is state policy director at SBA Pro-Life America, which opposes abortion rights.

GLENN: There's this whole area of legislating that has just been closed by sort of the prevailing thought, this will be struck down, and that's no longer there.

MCCAMMON: In this new environment, reshaped by the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision in June, Glenn says her group will push for state restrictions at earlier stages of pregnancy in states including Florida and Virginia, and for more restrictions on abortion pills. Elizabeth Nash is with the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

ELIZABETH NASH: Conservative states are not going to let up on the gas.

MCCAMMON: Nash says she's expecting some Republicans to push for new laws targeting groups that help people seeking abortions across state lines, which she describes as indirect attacks on interstate travel.

NASH: And by indirect, I mean trying to limit how abortion funds operate, trying to limit how they provide those support services to patients, which would prevent people from traveling.

MCCAMMON: Katie Glenn with SBA Pro-Life America notes that conservative justice, Brett Kavanaugh, in his concurrence in the Dobbs decision, wrote that he believes prohibiting interstate travel for abortion outright would be unconstitutional.

GLENN: We have no interest in limiting the freedom to travel for adults.

MCCAMMON: Instead, Glenn says her group will focus on trying to prevent minors from crossing state lines, particularly without their parents' consent. Abortion rights advocates say they hope to see more liberal states pass what are known as interstate shield laws designed to protect abortion providers and patients from prosecution in other states that ban abortion. Connecticut passed such a law in 2022. Jessica Arons with the American Civil Liberties Union cautions that while this type of legislation may have some promise, it's largely untested and will likely set up future conflicts between states with widely varying laws.

JESSICA ARONS: I think we're in a moment where people are really just trying anything they can to reduce harm and to shore up protections wherever possible.

MCCAMMON: Meanwhile, Kristan Hawkins with Students For Life of America says her group is advocating for restrictions on medication abortion in states including Wyoming, where many patients rely on abortion pills rather than traveling long distances for a procedure.

KRISTAN HAWKINS: Because of the - you know, the rural nature of the state, it's - chemical abortion is a major target.

MCCAMMON: Hawkins says she's also pushing for what are known as life at conception laws, which ban abortion throughout pregnancy. Morgan Hopkins, president of the abortion rights group All* Above All says she's encouraged by the results of the 2022 midterms, when many voters listed the issue as a top concern.

MORGAN HOPKINS: So I think state legislators can expect to hear from their constituents about this issue. We know that people are going to be paying attention and looking to see what their elected officials are doing.

MCCAMMON: As patients in states with abortion bans increasingly rely on out-of-state providers, Hopkins says her group will push for policies designed to expand access, especially in states like Colorado and Michigan where midterm voters recently signaled support for abortion rights. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.