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Abortion-Rights Supporters, Opponents Plan Next Steps


A number of new laws restricting abortion were set to take effect this weekend. Some have been blocked at the last minute. Meanwhile, activists both for and against abortion rights are figuring out their next steps after a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court this week. The justices struck down a Texas law saying it did not protect women's health and safety. That decision is expected to have an impact well beyond Texas. NPR national correspondent Jennifer Ludden joins us. Jennifer, welcome.


SUAREZ: I keep hearing phrases like that - the decision will have an impact well beyond Texas. But states are still moving ahead with new laws, right? What's taking effect around the country?

LUDDEN: They are. Well, what we're seeing right now is some laws to cut off public funding for clinics that provide abortion and also limit what can be done with the aborted fetuses. This is a reaction to last year's release of a series of undercover videos that targeted Planned Parenthood. Abortion opponents had alleged the group was illegally selling fetal tissue. Numerous states investigated. They never found any evidence of that. But lawmakers still use this to kind of pass more restrictions.

In Florida, though, a judge said that cutting off funding interferes with a woman's constitutional right to an abortion. Interestingly though, in Florida, the judge did allow another part of a law to take effect, which requires doctors who provide abortion to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. And this is the same as one of the measures that the Supreme Court had just struck down in Texas this week.

SUAREZ: So how is that? Even though the Texas law was found to be unconstitutional, other states can still move ahead with the same law and similar ones?

LUDDEN: They can. And about two dozen states already have these kinds of laws on the books, either admitting privileges or requirements that clinics have hospital-style buildings. Now, some of those laws were being challenged already, and we've seen several go down this week because of the Supreme Court ruling. Alabama's attorney general said he was just going to drop the state's defense of an admitting privileges law. He said he just couldn't make the case that it's constitutional anymore.

The Supreme Court, in a more quiet move this week, also declined to take up similar laws in Mississippi and Wisconsin. That means those challenges are over, and clinics in those states will stay open. But abortion rights groups say they are now going to challenge these laws state by state.

SUAREZ: How does that work?

LUDDEN: Well, Planned Parenthood announced this week they're targeting eight states to start with, more to come. They're working with state lawmakers to come up with legislation to repeal the laws that the Supreme Court has now deemed unconstitutional in Texas at least.

But we should remember that this big wave of restrictions in recent years really came where we see Republican-dominated legislatures and Republican governors. So in places where you still have a Republican majority, it's not clear that they're just going to repeal these laws. We may still have to go through the court system where judges will now have this new Supreme Court ruling as a precedent.

SUAREZ: Jennifer, what about other kinds of abortion restrictions? There are dozens across the country. And they're completely different from the laws just struck down in Texas.

LUDDEN: Right. And they don't necessarily talk about the abortion procedure itself. Some of them have waiting periods up to three days or forced sonograms, where doctors have to take a sonogram and show the image to the woman. Abortion rights groups are confident that this week's ruling is going to actually be sweeping enough to apply to a lot of these other laws.

They are focusing on something the justices did, which was attack a key strategy of abortion opponents. They have said that a lot of these restrictions benefit women's health and safety even when there has been no evidence for that. So abortion opponents are going to have to find another rationale, another legal reason when they defend these laws in court.

SUAREZ: NPR national correspondent Jennifer Ludden. Thanks a lot, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.
Ray Suarez
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