States prepare trigger laws
The legislation depend upon the states being allowed to regulate abortion.
CHICAGO -- Anticipating a day when American women no longer have a federal constitutional right to abortion, a number of states are considering laws that would automatically outlaw the procedure if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses itself.
Such trigger laws are designed to ban abortion as soon as the court overturns Roe v. Wade or the Constitution is amended to give states a free hand to regulate abortion. Louisiana lawmakers passed such a bill in the last week, and other states recently considered them.
Seven states already have trigger laws on the books although legal experts say it's not clear the older ones would result in an immediate ban.
The effort to pass trigger laws is part of a flurry of legislative activity against abortion that saw South Dakota enact a near-total ban in February. Eleven other states saw bills introduced in 2005-06 legislative sessions aimed at criminalizing abortion, according to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Some of these bills, such as the one enacted in South Dakota, would likely be declared unconstitutional because they conflict with Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a woman's constitutional right to end a pregnancy. Trigger laws like Louisiana's skirt a head-on collision by saying the ban would take effect only after Roe is overturned.
Pending in two states
Although most legislatures adjourned without taking final action on the bills, abortion bans are pending in Ohio and Tennessee.
Abortion-rights groups believe the legislative activity is a sign the other side is trying to exploit a perceived opportunity.
"I think there's a climate in this country -- an anti-choice president, Congress and Supreme Court -- that has emboldened anti-choice activists," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "These activists want to overturn Roe v. Wade. What's happening in South Dakota and Louisiana shows that if they can't get that delivered at the federal level, they are going to get it delivered at the state level."
Clarke Forsythe of Americans United for Life agrees.
"Pro-life forces exist to change the law to protect human life state by state," Forsythe said. "We exist to see that Roe is overturned and that the issue is returned to the people."
Abortion opponents are divided on the best way to reach that goal, however. Americans United for Life and other groups advocate a cautious approach of chipping away at abortion rights. Others champion a head-on assault, arguing that the Supreme Court could be one vote away from overturning Roe.
South Dakota, which had enacted a trigger law in 2005, passed its 2006 abortion ban with the explicit intention of getting the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe.
The ban was to have gone into effect July 1. But opponents have collected enough petition signatures to refer the law to a statewide vote, so its implementation is suspended until after the November election.
If voters uphold the ban, abortion-rights groups have said they will sue to have it blocked. Pundits on both sides of the issue have predicted the lower federal courts will prevent the ban from taking effect because it doesn't allow an exception for cases in which a pregnancy threatens the woman's health, as required by Roe.
But that is precisely the scenario supporters of the ban are envisioning because it would allow them to appeal their case to the Supreme Court. They are hoping the composition of the court will have shifted in their favor by that time.