It has been one year since the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, placing the legislative responsibility of governing abortion at the state level. The ongoing debate about abortion in America was fiercely reignited with legal, legislative, political, healthcare, and human implications.
The Supreme Court’s ruling that abortion was not a federal right did not settle the national abortion debate, but instead fractured it into 50 smaller debates. When states regained the power to legislate on abortion, a political furor erupted as Republican-majority states moved to restrict or ban abortion, and Democrat-majority states moved to protect access to abortion. The debate on abortion became a local issue, igniting activists across the country.
One year on, how has the nation adjusted to the post-Roe reality?
Abortion Services Since Dobbs
Society for Family Planning, an abortion rights non-profit, found legal abortions decreased by 6% federally following the overturn of Roe. A reduction in legal abortions was considered good news by some who see abortions as ending a life and therefore want the number reduced, and bad news by others who see the reduction as a restriction in women’s rights that may create problems with unwanted births.
RELATED: AllStances: Should Abortions Be Legal or Banned?
Digging into this data more shows that legal abortions increased in some states where abortion remained protected. North Carolina saw a 37% increase in legal abortions, Kansas 36%, Colorado 33%, Montana 30%, Nebraska 30%, and Illinois 28%.According to the Society for Family Planning report, “Some states with restrictions in place, but closer in distance to states that banned abortion such as Indiana and Georgia, provided more abortions post-Dobbs, experiencing a surge in the number of abortions provided by a clinician. On the other hand, states on the East and West coasts, where abortion remains legal with few restrictions, were less likely to experience a surge, as seen by either no or small increases in the percentage of abortions provided by a clinician.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice nonprofit, 66 Planned Parenthood clinics across 15 states have stopped providing abortion services. Of them, 14 have no other abortion providers. In the 15th state, Georgia, some abortion access still exists. Georgia permits abortions before a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Twenty-six of the 66 clinics have shut down entirely, while the remaining 40 provide other medical and sexual health services.
For pro-life advocates, fewer abortions is an improvement in health care because more lives are preserved. Pro-choice advocates see it differently.
NPR (Lean Left) posits that states with abortion restrictions may lose good doctors. In a survey of 2,000 physicians, 76% said they would not apply to work or train in states with abortion restrictions. NPR also reports “states with abortion bans saw a larger decline in medical school seniors applying for residency in 2023 compared with states without bans, according to a study from the Association of American Medical Colleges.”
Some outlets on the left, such as CNN (Lean Left) and LA Times (Lean Left), shared stories of individual doctors claiming they are more hesitant to perform certain types of miscarriage care or abortions where the health of the mother is at risk due to legal ambiguity in states with bans.
Pro-life nonprofit The Charlotte Lozier Institute argues that abortion policies have always allowed for intervention to protect the life of the mother, and that reports of doctor confusion are media misinformation.
Some outlets on the right, such as The Daily Caller (Right) and CBN (Right), feel optimistic that more women are choosing life rather than abortion as a result of state bans, but worry that less restricted states will become destinations for those seeking abortion services.
According to ProPublica (Lean Left), 12 states enforce near-total bans on abortion, and some are looking to go further: “In Texas, a lawmaker has introduced a bill to deny tax breaks to businesses that help pay for employees to leave the state for care. Tennessee, which has one of the strictest bans in the country, is considering a bill that would prohibit local governments from providing financial and health benefits to their employees who seek abortions. And in Idaho, a proposed law would withhold tax dollars from municipal governments that refuse to enforce state abortion laws.”
Other states are moving to protect access to abortions. Kentucky and Kansas both voted against measures to amend their state constitutions to say abortion is not a legal right. Minnesota courts ruled their state constitution protects abortion. California passed a constitutional amendment to protect abortion. Similar amendments are expected on the ballot in New York, Maryland and Ohio. New Mexico, Maine, and Illinois have also boosted protections for abortion providers.
With some states trying to prevent residents from traveling for abortions and others positioning themselves as “sanctuary states”, abortion has become a subject of inter-state strife.
2022 Midterm Elections: Democrats Run on Abortion Protection
Abortion was a highly consequential issue in the 2022 midterms, with Democrats across the country positioning themselves as defenders of abortion access.
After months of record inflation in 2022, Democrats, then in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, were widely predicted to underperform in the midterms. Conventional wisdom supported this theory – the party that controls the White House typically loses ground in the midterms. Many predicted Republicans would easily gain a majority in the House, and potentially in the Senate as well, in a ‘Red Wave.’
It didn’t quite happen like that. Republicans gained a majority in the House, but it was slim, and Democrats actually gained a seat in the Senate.
While a number of factors contributed to the Democrats’ outsized performance, the overturning of Roe v. Wade gave the party a banner to rally around. The Supreme Court decision was frequently framed by left-rated outlets as an attack by Republicans on constitutional rights.
This proved effective in mobilizing voters. In exit polls, an outcome-altering portion of voters named abortion their top issue in battleground states across the country. A CBS News (Lean Left bias) report stated abortion was the top issue for 37% of voters in Pennsylvania, the state where Democrats narrowly flipped a Senate seat after John Fetterman (D) defeated Mehmet Oz (R). In Michigan, abortion was the top issue for 45% of voters.
Heading into the 2022 midterms, it was uncertain if the Dobbs decision would remain fresh in voters’ minds. The question now is whether it will remain on voters’ minds over two years later for the 2024 elections.
Looking to 2024: Abortion Stays in the Spotlight
“Freedom. Personal freedom is fundamental to who we are as Americans,” said President Joe Biden in his reelection campaign announcement video. “Around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms… dictating what healthcare decisions women can make.”
Similar to Democratic campaigns in 2022, Biden is framing his 2024 campaign around alleged threats to Americans’ rights. By featuring abortion so prominently in his announcement video, the Biden campaign indicates its intention to keep abortion a prominent issue driving voters in 2024.
While the 2024 general election is still over a year away, recent elections point to this being a winning strategy. In April, Judge Janet Protasiewicz won her Wisconsin Supreme Court election after campaigning largely around protecting abortion access in the state. Protasiewicz’s victory in a key swing state flipped the state Supreme Court to a liberal majority for the first time in 15 years, leading a Newsweek (Center bias) writer to suggest her victory provides a roadmap for Biden’s 2024 campaign.
In the Republican primary, candidates are divided on abortion, facing a strategic issue that The Hill (Center bias) labeled a “political buzz saw.” While strict anti-abortion views are relatively popular among Republican voters, the article states that the party’s positions are “increasingly at odds with public opinion on the medical procedure.” This may be a problem for Republican candidates, who need to secure the nomination from their party and appease anti-abortion voters while also appealing to independent and moderate voters who are pro-abortion.
So far, Republican candidates are offering an array of stances on abortion when pressed on their positions. When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, widely polled as second in the primary race behind former President Donald Trump, signed a Florida bill banning abortion at the six-week mark, Trump suggested it was “too harsh.” A report from The Guardian (Lean Left bias) stated Trump believes supporting a nationwide ban on abortion would cost him the 2024 election, and instead prefers to leave the matter up to the states.
The Debate Continues
The issue of abortion, for many on both sides of the debate, is tied to morality. It underscores the way in which Americans differ in deeply held convictions and is one of the most contentious issues of our time.
The way the press and politicians usually frame the debate, as being pro-choice vs pro-life, is not representative of the majority of Americans. When you dig deeper, a majority of Americans believe there should be some restriction near the date of birth, and a majority of Americans believe there should be some freedom to have an abortion in some circumstances such as early in the pregnancy or in the case of rape or incest. See more nuance in the AllStances report on abortion by AllSides.
The ferocity of the debate is a testament to Americans’ enduring engagement with the democratic system. On every side of the debate, Americans are working to make their voices heard, demanding their representatives stick to promises, and realizing the power they possess to enact change in their community. Whether the change be restricting abortion or enshrining it as a right, the strength of the democratic system is evident in the speed at which lawmakers have acted to address their constituents' concerns.
As the abortion debate continues in America, we are reminded that our country’s strength comes not from universal agreement on issues, but on our ability to tackle our disagreements through democratic means.
Written by Isaiah Anthony, Deputy Blog Editor (Center bias) and Clare Ashcraft, Bridging and Bias Assistant (Center bias). Data visualizations by Andrew Weinzierl, Research Manager & Data Journalist (Lean Left bias).
Reviewed by Henry A. Brechter, Editor-in-chief (Center bias), Johnathon Held, Research & Content Intern (Lean Right bias), Andrew Weinzierl, Research Manager & Data Journalist (Lean Left bias), and Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings (Lean Right).