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What does the Dobbs decision mean for the nation and for individuals?

The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision has both immediate and far reaching implications and impacts across the country. In this decision, the Supreme Court effectively removed any barriers created by federal case law limiting individual states’ rights to ban or allow the termination of a pregnancy. 

This means that each state may now define and determine for itself when and whether terminating a pregnancy is legal within that state’s borders. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court rules otherwise (in the future), or the U.S. Congress passes laws to the contrary or amends the U.S. Constitution, each state may more freely regulate abortions within their borders. 

The impact to individual citizens, therefore, depends on where the individual lives. People who live in highly restrictive states have already seen enhanced abortion restrictions recently passed in their state or may already be aware that more restrictions are coming. For people living in strongly pro-abortion states, abortion access is not likely to change any time soon. These states may, however, see an influx of out-of-state individuals crossing state lines to get an abortion. More significant impacts may likely be felt in states where abortion rights are not so clearly settled. Decisions in these states will be made by the state’s elected representatives or voters. 

Abortions are still legal in many states. These states already are, or may shortly become, “sanctuary” states for individuals seeking an abortion from a state where abortions are banned or more limited. The states where abortions are legal at any time during the pregnancy include: 

  • Alaska.
  • Colorado.
  • New Jersey.
  • New Mexico (although there is a ban on D&X procedures).
  • Oregon.
  • Vermont.
  • Washington D.C.

The states where abortions are legal up to the point of viability (depending on state law, at or after 24 weeks or as determined by a physician) include:

  • California.
  • Connecticut.
  • Delaware.
  • Hawaii.
  • Illinois.
  • Maine.
  • Maryland.
  • Massachusetts.
  • Minnesota.
  • Nevada.
  • New Hampshire.
  • New York.
  • Rhode Island.
  • Washington.

Which states have laws that ban abortion?

While many states limit the right to terminate a pregnancy, several states have outright bans on abortion unless the pregnant person’s life is in danger or conception was the result of a crime. The following list shows the states that only allow terminating a pregnancy if the pregnant person’s life or health is in danger, or they have been the victim of incest or rape:

  • Mississippi.
  • Missouri.
  • North Dakota.
  • Oklahoma.
  • Tennessee.
  • Utah.

Some states do not include the exception for incest and rape. These are the states that only allow an abortion if the pregnant person’s life is in grave danger:

  • Arkansas.
  • Kentucky.
  • Louisiana.
  • Missouri.
  • South Dakota.
  • Texas.
  • West Virginia.

Which states are set to ban abortion within the next 30 days?

Before the Dobbs decision, several states passed “trigger” laws to prohibit and limit abortions. As the name implies, trigger laws take effect when another action triggers the law. In this case, states passed laws that would only take effect in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The following states have abortion bans that are set to take effect within 30 days of the Dobbs decsion:

  • Idaho.
  • Tennessee.
  • Texas.

What are some ways states limit abortions without a complete ban?

Currently, the number of states that limit abortions (beyond simply requiring licensed medical providers to prescribe the medications or perform the procedures) is in flux. Some states require anyone seeking to terminate a pregnancy to first: 

  • Receive counseling (e.g., Kansas, Louisiana, West Virginia). 
  • Wait 24- to 72-hours after receiving counseling or making the decision (e.g., North Carolina, Minnesota, Georgia).
  • Obtain parental consent, or provide parental notice, for minors (e.g., Rhode Island, Colorado, Massachusetts).

Other limits include bans on using public funding unless the life of the pregnant person is endangered, or conception was the result of a crime (e.g., Washington D.C., Delaware, Nevada).

Can states restrict traveling across state lines for an abortion?

The U.S. Justice Department has confirmed its position that a person has the right to travel between states for any purpose, including for an abortion in a state where it is legal. 

Also, while individual states may prohibit or ban conduct within their own borders, states, in general, may not criminalize conduct that is legal in other states. For example, say you were on a three-state trip. During that trip, you decided to legally smoke marijuana while visiting Massachusetts and legally gamble while in Nevada. While in the last state of your adventure, Utah, you realize that smoking marijuana and gambling are illegal there and wonder if you might get in trouble. Fear not because you cannot be prosecuted by the state of Utah for doing the things that were legal in Nevada and Massachusetts.

If states do pass legislation that limits a person’s ability to travel to seek medical care for an abortion, such overreaching laws would likely be struck down by a federal court.

Where can I go for help if I live in a state that bans or limits my rights?

Many people will need to travel to the nearest state where abortions are still legal. Many will likely need some help to figure out where they can go and if they can get financial support. Because state laws will continue to change rapidly following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs, here are some resources that can provide up-to-date information and direct assistance:

Planned Parenthood - A national reproductive health care provider with a network of local clinics that can assist with finding and funding abortion care, both in and out-of-state.

Whole Women’s Health - Abortion Wayfinder Program - This program provides assistance finding the nearest abortion provider and financial help as well.

National Abortion Federation - A professional association of abortion providers that can help find an abortion provider and financial assistance. NAF offers a hotline anyone can call to get assistance: 1-800-772-9100.

If When How - Reproductive Legal Helpline - A helpline where you can ask questions about your rights and self-managed abortions.

Abortion Finder - A national directory of abortion providers with state-by-state information on limits, restrictions, and in-state resources and assistance.

As of the date of the Dobbs decision, only the state of Oregon has funds set aside to assist those seeking abortions from outside of Oregon. California has a bill in the works that would do that as well. New York state is planning to expand funding to abortion providers to increase capacity to help out-of-state abortion seekers. Aside from state-funded assistance, nonprofits may have funding to assist individuals who do not have the resources to travel on their own.

Can I still pursue a medication abortion?

President Biden committed to taking action to preserve individual rights and access to abortion. The White House announced two programs that protect the right to travel to seek medical care, and that protect access to essential preventive health care like contraception and medication abortion. 

The White House announcement explains that the Secretary of Health and Human Services was directed by the President to “protect women’s access to critical medications for reproductive health care that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration—including essential preventive health care like contraception and medication abortion.” Specifically calling for the necessary medications to be as “widely accessible as possible in light of the FDA’s determination that the drug is safe and effective—including when prescribed through telehealth and sent by mail.”

One legal issue that could arise when anyone undergoes a medical procedure is the possibility that they will need to appoint someone who is authorized to make decisions on their behalf if they are not able to speak or communicate for themselves. The legal document that allows you to appoint that trusted person is often called a Medical Power of Attorney

If you are seeking medical treatment in a different state, it may be useful to have handy a HIPAA Authorization Form in case you need to have your medical information released to a healthcare provider outside of your state and medical group.

These Rocket Lawyer documents are legal in your state, easy to customize, and available to try for free.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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