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With Roe V. Wade Threatened, Abortion-Rights Supporters Rally


Supporters of abortion rights say they're fighting back. They are responding with protests to new laws in state after state restricting abortion. The laws deliberately contradict the terms of Roe v. Wade, and they were approved by lawmakers who say they hope the Supreme Court will reconsider that 1973 decision. NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon is in our studios.

Good morning.


INSKEEP: I should note Alabama's governor, even as she signed this law, said probably an unenforceable law that bans nearly all abortions in Alabama. How seriously do abortion rights group take - groups take these laws?

MCCAMMON: They take them very seriously. They're feeling very threatened by the fact that legislatures are passing these very restrictive anti-abortion laws. Remember Alabama's bans abortion at all stages of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape and incest. Several states, including Missouri last week, have passed laws banning abortion as soon as cardiac activity can be detected, which is often before a woman knows she's pregnant. And so organizers say that Roe v. Wade is under the greatest threat in a generation now that President Trump has put two justices on the Supreme Court.

Steve, I talked with Ilyse Hogue of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She says her group is hearing from activists around the country even more so than last year during the confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

ILYSE HOGUE: We are seeing that same level of energy - possibly more because some people didn't believe even with Justice Kavanaugh on the bench that Roe was threatened. But these laws show that it absolutely is, that there is a goal coming out of these states with a national anti-choice movement to criminalize abortion and punish women.

MCCAMMON: And I should mention, Steve, that these laws tend to punish doctors who perform abortions rather than women who seek them. The one in Alabama includes a penalty for doctors who perform abortions of up to 99 years in prison.

INSKEEP: Thanks for the clarification. But why are we seeing so many of these laws at once?

MCCAMMON: Well, a big reason is because of the new energy and optimism that abortion rights opponents are feeling in light of President Trump's nominees who've been confirmed to the Supreme Court and moved it to the right. They're working hard to pass these restrictive laws and, again, hoping to see a challenge to Roe v. Wade.

And we've also seen a few states, like New York, pass restriction - protections - on the other side, protections for abortion rights, including removing restrictions on abortion later in pregnancy. Abortion rights opponents say that's energized them and pushed some state lawmakers in the Midwest and South to try to push further for these restrictions.

INSKEEP: Well, let's think about how this would end up in the Supreme Court. You pass a law in Alabama or wherever - a number of states; someone then challenges it in court. And that would be someone who supports abortion rights, I guess. Are groups lining up to challenge these laws in court?

MCCAMMON: They certainly are. In fact, there is a hearing today in Mississippi on one of these bans that bans abortion after a heartbeat's detected. And I should note, Steve, that none of these early bans have taken effect yet. Some have already been blocked in court.

INSKEEP: Is it likely that some of these challenges will make the Supreme Court?

MCCAMMON: Not anytime soon. It takes a long time for laws to work their way through the appeals system. And some of these, maybe never because, again, they may just be thrown out by lower courts as obviously in conflict with Roe v. Wade. But what we should really be watching out for is some of the other laws that are already working their way through the system or are somewhat less restrictive - laws, for example, that ban abortion for specific reasons, like, because of a genetic disorder and others. Some of those are very close to the Supreme Court and could be taken up soon.

INSKEEP: And move around the edges of abortion rights rather than going directly at the fundamental question.

Sarah, thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: May 20, 2019 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous headline incorrectly spelled the name of the Roe v. Wade plaintiff as Rove.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.