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Will the Supreme Court Create a Nation of Lawbreakers?

If the US Supreme Court follows through with a leaked draft opinion that would eliminate constitutional protections for abortion, it will make a mockery of the law. Though many states will rush to restrict or ban the procedure, tens of thousands of women will continue to exercise their recently revoked right.

CHICAGO – The leak of a draft majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito suggests that the US Supreme Court is about to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision recognizing a constitutional right to abortion. If it does, the Court will create a nation of lawbreakers, because many women will simply evade or violate restrictive state abortion laws. But it will also create an even more unequal society, because poor women with unwanted pregnancies will have far fewer options than their wealthier counterparts.

I know this because I have studied the actual impact of Supreme Court decisions on abortion access for four decades. Between the Roe decision and 2017 (the last year for which there are reliable numbers), more than 58 million abortions were performed in the US. The Guttmacher Institute, which collects and reports the most reliable abortion data, estimates that one in four American women will have an abortion over the span of their reproductive years. Given these figures, it is no wonder that nearly two-thirds of Americans support retaining the constitutional protection that Roe provides.

If Roe is overruled, many states will rush to impose severe restrictions or complete bans on abortion. Thirteen states have so-called β€œtrigger laws” that will automatically go into force, and at least a dozen others will move to pass new legislation almost immediately. And yet decades of data show that these new restrictions will not prevent women in those states from terminating unwanted pregnancies.