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Details on State Abortion Laws

The state abortion law articles in this section contain three main parts: state statutes or laws related to abortion; statements on when abortion is legal; and specific regulations dealing with consent and/or notice.

Below, there is a map that links to state abortion articles. Depending on the state, these articles may highlight other important abortion policies. For example, there may be information on criminal or civil penalties for violating the laws. They may also point out waiting periods, license requirements for health care providers, and/or residency restrictions.

State Laws

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade creating a constitutional right to abortion nationwide, state laws varied. Some states had broad abortion bans, with exceptions only to save the life of the mother. Other states permitted limited abortion access up to fetal viability. Many of these pre-Roe statutes remained on the books although they could not be enforced while a federal right to abortion existed.

In 2022, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the Supreme Court changed course. The Court ruled that Roe had been wrongly decided and ended the federal right to abortion. Some states had prepared for this change by passing "trigger laws," abortion bans that took effect with the overturning of Roe. In contrast, other states passed state laws or amended their state constitution with the goal of protecting reproductive rights at least through the second trimester, consistent with Roe.

With no federal standard after Dobbs, state abortion laws returned to a patchwork of laws and regulations that vary from state to state.

Although some states like New York, Minnesota, and Colorado, permit abortions throughout all stages of a pregnancy, this is not typical. Most often, states do not impose a total ban or an unrestricted right to abortion. Instead, each state sets abortion restrictions and regulations based on the findings of its state legislature.

States like California and Hawaii support abortion rights, at least to the stage of fetal viability, when the fetus can live outside the uterus. States like Texas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi generally value fetal or unborn life over an individual right to decide matters of reproductive health. They ban abortion in nearly all cases.

In some states, the state constitution or a decision of a state supreme court provides a legal right to abortion. For example, Ohio, Michigan, California, and Vermont have passed voter-approved amendments to their state constitutions that protect abortion rights. In Alaska, a state supreme court ruling held that the state constitution provides a right to abortion. It concluded that a state abortion restriction must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.

Legal Abortion

The language of state statutes may vary based on whether the state bans most abortions or provides for legal abortion through the greater part of a pregnancy. Laws providing for greater periods of legal abortion may use terms associated with the patient's decision or her health. Laws tightly restricting abortion may state abortion is illegal unless certain circumstances are present, such as a medical emergency.

For example, in Massachusetts, a designated health care provider can perform an abortion if they determine that the pregnancy is under 24 weeks. If they determine the patient is at 24 weeks of pregnancy or greater, then they can only perform an abortion under limited circumstances. Such situations may include to preserve the life or the health of the patient or due to a fatal fetal anomaly or grave fetal diagnosis.

On the other hand, in Connecticut, the law states the patient may decide to terminate her pregnancy up to viability. It does not specify the number of weeks. After that, no abortion can be performed unless necessary to preserve the patient's life or health.

In contrast, Missouri law provides that no abortion may be performed or induced upon a woman, except in cases of medical emergency. In South Carolina, the law states that no abortion may be performed on a pregnant woman once a fetal heartbeat has been detected. Yet, the law exempts an abortion that occurs when the physician finds that a medical emergency necessitates termination of the pregnancy. South Carolina also permits an abortion through the 12th week of pregnancy if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

Specific Abortion Regulations

The Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs has left abortion a highly unsettled area of law. As a result, state legislatures must attempt to balance a woman's right to choose an abortion with the state's interest in protecting fetal life. Depending on the politics of the state in question, the outcome may be quite different.

The statutes in the state abortion law articles reflect the current status of the state constitutional provisions and legal codes. Interestingly enough, some of these laws may be unconstitutional if challenged, based on Supreme Court caselaw. Here are some common abortion regulations and/or court treatment of the area before Dobbs. To the extent that any prior court rulings relied on the prior right to abortion set forth in Roe, they may now face legal challenge.

  • Parental Consent. States may require a minor seeking an abortion to obtain the consent of a parent or guardian as long as there is an adequate judicial bypass procedure. In Rhode Island and many other states, a judicial bypass option allows a child who seeks not to involve their parent or guardian to demonstrate to a judge that they are mature enough to make the decision on their own. In the alternative, a judge may conclude a minor is immature but that the abortion remains in their best interest. A judge may also deny a minor's request in a given case.

  • Parental Notice. States may require parental notification and consent or only parental notification prior to providing an abortion for a minor. In 2021, Illinois repealed its parental notification law.

  • Informed Consent. A state may require a physician or abortion clinic to provide a woman with information on the development of the fetus. In Pennsylvania, this includes providing the probable gestational age. It may also require information or counseling on health risks associated with abortion, alternatives to abortion, and sources of financial aid.

  • Waiting Period. The state's informed consent law may also require a waiting period. This is a mandated time between consent and the abortion procedure. Courts have upheld a 24-hour waiting period like the one in Florida, finding that it does not constitute an undue burden on a woman's decision to abort.

  • Ultrasound tests. A state may require a pregnant woman seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound test. The ultrasound test may allow a more specific determination of the gestational age of the fetus. State law may require the abortion provider to make the ultrasound available for the patient's viewing at their option. The law may also make the provider describe details related to the fetus' development to the patient.

  • Spousal Consent. At present, a state may not require a married woman to obtain her spouse's consent before undergoing an abortion.

  • Medication Abortion. The two-pill abortion pill regimen is currently facing a court challenge by abortion opponents. Approved as a reproductive health care option by the FDA for over two decades, it remains available in states that legalize abortion at least through the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. In states that ban abortion before that time, it may not be available. Some states like Arizona have banned the use of telehealth services related to medication abortion. Many New England states like Maine authorize telehealth for medication abortions.

  • Second Physician. A state may not require that a second physician attend the abortion to take immediate control of the care of a child born alive in an abortion unless the provision has an exception for a situation when the health of the mother was endangered. After Dobbs, there may be renewed interest in provisions that specify the number of physicians or that require certain abortions to occur in a hospital.

  • Insurance Coverage. The majority of states follow the federal Hyde Amendment and do not provide Medicaid insurance coverage for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant woman. Medicaid provides health insurance for low-income persons. It is a federal and state funded program. States like Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Iowa follow the Hyde restrictions. In contrast, states like Maryland, Montana, and Washington will use state funds to provide Medicaid for other abortions as well. Some states also have laws banning private health insurance policies from covering abortion services. These are generally states with near-total bans on abortion such as Kentucky, Idaho, and Indiana.

  • Conscience Protections. Federal law provides conscience protection rights for certain health care services. Originally, such laws prevented health care workers who objected to abortion or sterilization procedures to opt out of such services. Several states passed similar protections. For example, Pennsylvania has a statute that provides that no medical personnel, facility, nor any employee, agent, or student thereof, shall be required against their conscience to aid, facilitate, or perform an abortion. The exception occurs where the clinic only performs abortions.

  • Partial-Birth Abortion. The federal government banned this late-term abortion procedure in 2003 and the federal law was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007. Several states, including Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Nebraska have similar laws.

  • Fetal Remains. State law may require that the remains of the unborn child are disposed of in a "humane and sanitary" manner. Although found burdensome in past rulings, it may become acceptable under state law post-Roe. In Utah, a patient can direct the health care facility regarding the disposition of fetal remains if she has made an election to do so no later than 72 hours after an abortion.

Resources for Further Reseach

State regulations related to abortion and other reproductive health matters remains in flux. Here are some resources that may also assist your research.

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