The Population Institute, a nonprofit which advocates for gender equality and universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, today published a brief and a series of related fact sheets entitled “Beyond Roe: The Floor, Not the Ceiling.” The package compiles current, sourced research and analysis on the state of abortion rights in the U.S. Written in a concise, accessible format, the series is a resource for covering and contextualizing current restrictions that undermine Roe v. Wade.
With a supermajority-conservative Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments December 1 on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO), many analysts say that the resulting decision could uphold pre-viability abortion bans, which would challenge decades of precedent holding that prior to fetal viability abortion is a Constitutional right. The decision in this case could ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade. Abortion providers told the Court the Dobbs v. JWHO case stands to “scuttle a half-century of precedent and invite states to ban abortion entirely.”
But setting aside Dobbs v. JWHO and other efforts to overturn Roe, the “Beyond Roe” series makes the broader point that abortion rights have already been significantly undermined, and it documents how, to what extent, and who are disproportionately impacted by abortion restrictions, namely Black and brown people, low-income people, and young people. Current metrics show one in four women in the U.S. get an abortion by the age of 45. But anti-abortion policymakers have been working for decades to restrict access to this safe and common health procedure. Over 1300 abortion restrictions and bans enacted at the state level since Roe, 600 new ones introduced in 2021 alone, have already gone a long way toward driving down the number of women who can exercise abortion rights and access services. “With the recent enactment of Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), arguably the most restrictive abortion ban in the U.S.,” the brief points out, “Roe could be considered overturned already, as it is now effectively meaningless for one out of 10 women of reproductive age.”
Vina Smith-Ramakrishnan, research associate at the Population Institute and one of the authors of the series said: “If we are serious about achieving reproductive rights for all in the U.S., we need to not only protect Roe, but also move the conversation beyond the Constitutional legality of abortion and into the bans and restrictions that limit who can exercise those rights. The truth is that Roe has always been the floor, not the ceiling. The “Beyond Roe” series shows that while each of these anti-abortion policies alone is harmful, working in tandem with each other, the barriers to accessing abortion can become insurmountable and deepen existing inequalities. And that’s even while Roe remains in force.”
Population Institute’s President and CEO Kathleen Mogelgaard said: “People everywhere deserve the right to safe, affordable, compassionate abortion services. While our attention on is drawn to the Dobbs v. JWHO case, it is important to remember that the right to abortion is already severely undermined by a suite of anti-abortion policies. We now must expand upon the rights established by Roe until everyone, regardless of race, income level, zip code, gender identity, or immigration status has access to the abortion services they need.”
The “Beyond Roe” series documents in detail the current status of tactics abortion opponents are using to cut off access and effectively nullify abortion rights for more and more people, including:
- Gestational age bans 20 states ban abortion after fetal viability, 21 states limit abortions from 20 to 24 weeks after the last menstrual period, and 15 have tried to ban abortion at or before 18 weeks. The latter were all stopped by court order except Texas’ SB8 law.
- The Hyde Amendment which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion services.
- Insurance coverage bans which deny abortion coverage to Medicare enrollees.
- Method bans or restrictions which outlaw certain safe and effective abortion procedures.
- Other medically unnecessary requirements such as mandated waiting periods, counseling that conveys misleading information, and forced ultrasounds. These measures purport to champion the health of pregnant patients but serve to make it more difficult and expensive to access abortion care.
- Parental involvement laws, currently on the books in 37 states, which delay or prevent young people’s access to abortion services and disproportionately affect immigrant youth.
- Religious refusals, on the books in 46 states, which allow most health care workers and providers to refuse patients abortion services if it goes against their personal beliefs.
- TRAP (targeted restrictions on abortion providers) laws, on the books in 23 states, which impose medically unnecessary burdens on providers and clinics under the guise of protecting pregnant patients’ health, but effectively force providers and clinics from delivering abortion care.
- Trigger bans, on the books in 22 states, which would immediately downgrade abortion’s legal status and restrict abortion further if the Supreme Court overturns Roe — automatically, without the need for any new state legislation.
Together, these laws form a pervasive, growing nexus of restrictive and hostile policies that make exercising abortion rights and accessing abortion services virtually impossible in many places around the U.S. This is true whether or not Roe itself gets overturned, and the situation stands to get worse as more of these laws accumulate and continue to undermine abortion access.
That’s important context for Dobbs v. JWHO and other pending Supreme Court cases on abortion rights. As those cases unfold, the “Beyond Roe” series assembles current, relevant analysis and documentation of the evolving situation in one place. It is designed to be a convenient resource for journalists, advocates, and policymakers.