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Yesterday on hour two of the “Erick Erickson Show,” Erickson argued that Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court case regarding the Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks, is not really that big a deal because it would return regulation of abortion to the states. He argued that most abortions take place in states that are liberal and either have no bans in place now or would be unlikely to ban them in the future, while conservative states that have already or would ban abortion have low abortion numbers already.
While there is some truth to this argument, I feel it is overstated. There are 17 states that have laws or constitutions that ban abortion and would go back into effect if Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey were reversed or limited (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin). In 2017, 154,810 abortions were performed in these states out of 861,501 total in the U.S., which is 18% of the total. (By the way, Texas was a third of this total, with 55,440.) If these bans went back into effect, most of these abortions would not be performed, which would save a not insignificant number of babies’ lives.
If states were allowed to make abortion illegal or to restrict it significantly, there would probably be some adjustments by the states. Until now, it didn’t really matter if a state’s constitution or laws banned abortion because enforcement has been enjoined anyway. But legislators or voters might change things if they felt that it mattered. For example, Kansas has a statewide referendum on a constitutional amendment to ban abortion coming up in August 2022, and it will probably pass. Wyoming allows abortion up to the point of viability, but it had only 31 abortions in 2019, so there is clearly a strong cultural bias against abortion, regardless of the law. I expect that net overall, the restrictions on abortion would increase if voters and state legislators felt that they could do something effective, not just theoretical, against abortion.
Some states would reduce or eliminate restrictions on abortion if Roe and Casey were reversed. But this would seem to have little effect because those states already have very little practical restriction on abortion. For example, Massachusetts bans abortions after 24 weeks, and it might eliminate this restriction entirely since it is such a liberal state. But most abortions occur in the first trimester anyway, so this would not make a large numerical difference (although the death of even a few babies matters very much in moral terms). And some legislators in conservative states who previously voted in favor of life might start to vote in favor of abortion once their votes started to matter. But overall, I think these would have a minor effect.
But I believe that the most important impact of a pro-life decision in Dobbs would be psychological and moral. It would make people more aware that science overwhelming favors life because the baby has his own distinct DNA from the moment of conception. It would make more people aware that the age of viability, the pain threshold, and the age of heartbeat detection are much earlier than the beginning of the third trimester, the point where Roe allows states to regulate abortion. It would be a powerful statement for life.Published in