“This is not a drill.” That’s how one prominent abortion-rights group described the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear a case directly challenging Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling guaranteeing the nationwide right to abortion. The Court will likely hear arguments this fall, with the anti-abortion movement poised for a historic victory—made possible by former President Donald Trump’s appointment of three conservative justices to the bench. What might America be like without Roe?

Mary Ziegler, a professor at Florida State University College of Law, is the author of three books on the history of U.S. abortion law and politics. Ziegler believes that roughly half the states in the country would outlaw abortion in a post-Roe world. Illegal abortions would increase. More Americans may travel across state lines for access to the procedure, but doing so would be harder for citizens without financial resources or the time and means to journey long distances. Meanwhile, states committed to abortion rights might look for ways to solidify those rights and expand access—including to people in need elsewhere in the U.S. While this vision of the future presents a great deal of uncertainly, Ziegler is certain of this much: America’s conflicts over abortion wouldn’t end with Roe. “If anything,” she says, “I imagine the issue becoming more politically salient. The abortion wars would get even uglier.”


Graham Vyse: How would the overturn of Roe v. Wade change the country?

Mary Ziegler: In some ways we’ve had a preview, because there are already big differences between the states when it comes to abortion, but there would be much sharper distinctions. The anti-abortion movement would focus on [winning] recognition of fetal personhood or an outright national ban on abortion.

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