The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling on Friday, stripping away the nation’s constitutional protections for abortion that had stood for nearly a half-century.
The decision is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the nation’s states – including Texas.
"The idea that states are free now to regulate abortion indicates that in the future where you live could very well have a strong influence on the rights you enjoy," says Rice University Professor of Political Science Dr. Paul Brace.
Is all abortion now illegal in Texas?
Currently, Texas bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, which is enforced by private citizens who can sue anyone who "aids or abets" in an abortion.
Texas, which is where Roe v. Wade case began, has a pre-Roe law that can potentially be enforced with the overturning of the nationwide legislation. The pre-1973 statute forbids abortion except when necessary to save the life of the mother.
"That has not been repealed, and they're still on the books," Brace says.
And in 2021, Texas became one of 13 states that has a so-called "trigger law." So the overturning of Roe v. Wade now triggers the Human Life Protection Act passed last year. Thirty days after the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, Texas will ban all abortions from the moment of fertilization.
The law criminalizes the person who performs the abortion, not the person who undergoes the procedure.
What are the exceptions?
A licensed physician can perform an abortion with narrow exceptions only to save the life of a pregnant patient or prevent "substantial impairment of major bodily function."
The law calls for the physician to attempt the abortion in a manner that "provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive" unless it puts the patient’s life at greater risk or at serious risk of impairment to major bodily function.
Texas law makes no exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or severe fetal abnormalities.
Demonstrators gather outside Houston's City Hall during a Bans Off Our Bodies rally on May 14, 2022. (Photo by Mark Felix / AFP) (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP via Getty Images)
Abortion providers can face a felony, fine
Anyone who attempts to perform an abortion in violation of the law faces a second-degree felony. It is a first-degree felony if "an unborn child dies as a result of the offense".
"It takes the performing of abortion in Texas, it makes it a felony, and doctors who perform an abortion can face life in prison and fines up to $100,000," Brace explains.
Anyone who violates the law is subject to a civil penalty of $100,000. Physicians and health care professionals can also lose their licenses.
Can Texans still take contraceptives or Plan B?
In its ruling, the Supreme Court made it clear that Americans still have the constitutional right to access contraceptives. Texans can still access birth control and emergency contraceptives, which are commonly referred to as Plan B or the morning-after pill.
Contraceptives are different from abortion-inducing drugs, which would be illegal under the ban.
Abortions fell significantly when Texas legislation took effect in September
A Texas law banning most abortions after about six weeks — before many women know they are pregnant — took effect in September and makes no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
Because of how Republicans wrote the law, which is enforceable only through lawsuits filed by private citizens against doctors or anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion, Texas essentially outmaneuvered decades of Supreme Court precedent governing a women’s constitutional right to an abortion.
State data shows the number of abortions performed in Texas’ roughly two dozen clinics fell by half in the five months after the law came into effect compared to the same period a year earlier.
Texans may have to travel hundreds of miles for an abortion
Many Texas women have already traveled out of state for abortions since the law took effect. They will likely have to travel much farther now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, triggering bans in more states.
"People who can afford an airplane ticket and a hotel room in a state where abortions are legal will still have access to abortions. For financially challenged women though, this definitely has an unequal impact based on financial means," says Dr. Brace.
Of the states that directly share a border with Texas, New Mexico is the only one where abortion will remain legal after the ruling. In 2021, state lawmakers repealed a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures as felonies, thus ensuring access to abortion even after the federal court rolled back guarantees. Albuquerque is home to one of only a few independent clinics in the country that perform abortions in the third trimester without conditions. An abortion clinic in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, is just a mile from the state line with Texas and caters to patients from El Paso, western Texas and Arizona.
Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana have so-called "trigger laws" that ban most abortions upon the overturning of the Roe v Wade decision. Oklahoma already had a ban on most abortions, and Arkansas and Louisiana banned most abortions 20 weeks or more postfertilization.
Colorado could also see a surge in out-of-state patients. Colorado’s health department reports there were 11,580 abortions in the state in 2021; of those 14% were for non-residents. More than 900 of those non-residents were from Texas, Wyoming and Nebraska.
A number of major companies have announced plans to pay for travel for employees seeking abortions. However, Dr. Brace says traveling to a state where the procedure is legal to get an abortion may not be an option for long.
"States are trying to figure out ways to criminalize that behavior," he said.
Some Republican lawmakers are already working on ways to punish companies that help their Texas-based employees get abortions elsewhere, although it’s unclear how much support that idea will have when the Legislature returns in 2023.
The Associated Press and The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.