Americans face new abortion landscape in wake of Supreme Court decision

An altercation in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington following the announcement on June 25, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

CHICAGO (NYTIMES) - A new and rapidly shifting reality took hold across the United States on Saturday (June 25) as abortion, a basic legal right for nearly a half century, was outlawed in some states, and the initial bursts of elation and shock from the overturning of Roe v. Wade gave way to action.

At abortion clinics across the country, providers hastily cancelled appointments out of fear of prosecution, and stunned women abruptly made plans to cross state lines into places where abortion was still allowed - travelling from Missouri to Illinois, from Wisconsin to Minnesota.

In Arkansas, where a trigger law banning abortions went into effect on Friday, 17 patients had been scheduled for abortions on Friday at Little Rock Family Planning Services, but none were performed before the Supreme Court's decision shut down operations. About 30 more patients had been scheduled for an ultrasound and consultation that was required under Arkansas' previous law before women could get an abortion.

The Yellowhammer Fund, which is based in Alabama and provides financial support to women seeking abortions, has received an influx of calls in the last day from people confused about the changing laws and seeking guidance and money to travel elsewhere for abortions.

"People who had appointments for next week no longer have appointments," said Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director of the fund. "The person who runs the call line is very overwhelmed."

Legal experts confronted a quickly changing landscape of abortion laws. In the newly redrawn map of the United States that was taking shape on Saturday, abortion was banned in at least nine states, prompting vows of swift enforcement from officials in conservative states. Prosecutors in liberal states and counties responded with defiance, saying they would not violate their own values by pursuing criminal cases against doctors who had performed abortions.

Demonstrations continued to roil cities across the country. Americans said they were steeling themselves for a fight in the wake of the court's decision, whether that meant pushing for still more restrictions on abortion, or working to elect politicians in the mid-term elections who favour abortion rights.

"I fear for my child. I worry that she isn't going to have choice," said Abbye Putterman, 36, who stood outside an abortion clinic in Overland Park, Kansas, on Saturday and spoke of the impact the decision could have on her 12-year-old daughter.

"I feel like a whole bunch of white men are trying to decide what my daughter should do. Those men don't know anything about what it's like to carry a child - what pregnancy does to your body."

Abortion is still legal in Kansas but was banned in neighbouring Missouri on Friday. In August, a ballot initiative will ask voters in Kansas to decide whether the state Constitution should continue to protect the right to an abortion.

Putterman was at the clinic to show support to the women receiving services there, while anti-abortion protesters gathered outside.

"We don't believe in moral compromise, and we don't want them to be guilty of murder," said Valley Scharping, 26, who stood on the pavement. He held a sign that read, "Love your pre-born neighbour as yourself."

On Saturday, US President Joe Biden spoke of the Roe decision. "Jill and I know how painful and devastating the decision is for so many Americans," he said, adding that the administration would focus on states and "how they administer it and whether or not they violate other laws".

A patient seeking abortion services at the Women's Reproductive Clinic in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, on June 15, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Some states imposed new abortion restrictions on Saturday, and others tried to accelerate timelines for the bans to take place.

After the Supreme Court handed control over abortion restrictions back to the states, at least nine states that are home to roughly 40 million people quickly put bans in place. Other abortion prohibitions that had been passed in anticipation of a post-Roe legal landscape were working their way through the courts.

In Idaho, North Dakota and Texas, officials said they would wait the 30 days stipulated in their laws for their so-called trigger laws to take effect, banning abortion.

In Ohio, a law outlawing abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy took effect after a federal judge lifted an injunction that had blocked the law for the past three years. Governor Mike DeWine reiterated his opposition to abortion on Friday, saying he believed "that the life of a human being is at stake and we have an obligation to protect that innocent life".

Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah filed a lawsuit in state court on Saturday seeking to block the state's ban on abortion, which went into effect on Friday. The lawsuit argues that the ban violates several protections in the state's constitution, including the right to determine family composition. Planned Parenthood in the state said that it had to stop performing abortions immediately after the ban went into effect and that it would have to cancel 55 abortion appointments scheduled for next week unless temporary relief was granted.

Anti-abortion campaigners gather outside of an abortion clinic in Dayton, Ohio, on June 24, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

In many states, residents were left to grapple with a confusing array of pronouncements as local and state officials clashed over the legalities of abortion restrictions and how they would be enforced.

In Tennessee, Herbert Slatery, the attorney general, filed an emergency motion on Friday asking a court to lift an injunction and allow a ban on abortions after six weeks to be made law.

"After nearly 50 years, today's decision gives the people of Tennessee a say on what the Court called 'a profound moral issue'," he said in a statement.

But Glenn Funk, the district attorney in Nashville, Tennessee, said in a statement that he would not prosecute doctors performing abortions or women who choose such a procedure.

"I will use my constitutional powers to protect women, health providers and those making personal health decisions," he said.

Demonstrators during a protest following the decision by the US Supreme Court, in Los Angeles, California, on June 25, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Officials of Mississippi's only abortion clinic, which was the centre of the case decided on Friday by the Supreme Court, predicted that conservative activists would soon seek limits to rights related to birth control and same-sex marriage.

Diane Derzis, who owns the clinic, the Jackson Women's Health Organisation, said it would most likely remain open for the next 10 days before shutting its doors when a new law is expected to take effect in that state.

"It has begun," she said. "In the next few days, weeks and year, you will see half of the states have no abortion services. We are continuing to do services. We are not laying down."

In states where abortion remains legal, leaders promised to reinforce protections.

Governors in California, Oregon and Washington issued a joint "commitment to reproductive freedom", saying they would welcome people who sought abortions in their states and push back on efforts by other state governments to prosecute people who did so.

Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a Democrat, called for a special session for lawmakers to strengthen abortion rights, anticipating that women from other states would be flocking to Illinois for abortion services.

At a Planned Parenthood clinic in Waukegan, Illinois, just kilometres from the Wisconsin border, a group of about 20 anti-abortion protesters stood with signs and prayed on Saturday.

The clinic was opened in 2020 in anticipation that Roe would be overturned and Wisconsin would ban abortions, said Mary Jane Maharry, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Illinois.

"We do have enough staff to meet the needs today, and we are working at increasing our staff to meet the anticipated surge of 20,000 to 30,000 additional out-of-state patients per year," she said.

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