The Supreme Court's decision in the 1972 case of Roe v. Wade was -- and is still -- the most important decision affecting abortion in the United States. Roe made it possible for women to terminate their pregnancies for virtually any reason within certain gestational time limits.
Since Roe, abortion has come under scrutiny by lawmakers and abortion opponents who have pushed for stricter abortion laws over the past several decades. For instance, the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld a woman's right to legal abortion, but allowed for states to impose certain restrictions on abortion, such as 24-hour waiting periods, informed consent requirements, parental consent provisions, and record keeping mandates.
Although legal abortion is still the law of the land, the future of abortion leans toward stricter limitations that seem to chip away at the essential holding of Roe.
Below is a summary of abortion laws that arguably limit a woman's right to have an abortion. For state-specific information, check your state's abortion laws.
Most states require women to receive counseling before an abortion procedure. The type of counseling varies among the states, but may include:
- Information about a potential link between breast cancer and abortions;
- The fetus' ability to feel pain;
- Mental health consequences; and
- Availability of ultrasounds.
More than half of the states require a woman to wait 24 hours (or longer) before receiving an abortion. A handful of states also require a woman to visit a clinic more than once between the initial consultation and the actual abortion procedure.
Doctor and Hospital Requirements
In the majority of states, abortions must be performed by a licensed physician. Several other states require abortions to be performed in a hospital (depending on the trimester), and other states require a second physician to be present in abortions after a certain limit.
The majority of states allow medical institutions to refuse abortions and a handful of these states only allow refusal by private or religious institutions.
Most states ban abortions after a certain gestational time period - such as after "fetal viability" or when a fetus might potentially survive outside the womb. The time period of fetal viability varies among the states. The most stringent gestational limit is 20-weeks (Nebraska and North Carolina). Other states limit abortions to under 24-weeks (Florida, Nevada, and New York).
Parental consent and notification laws generally relate to women under the age of 18. Most states require at least one parent's involvement in a minor's decision to have an abortion. Other states require both parents to consent to an abortion procedure, while a dozen states require only one or both parents be notified. Finally, a small number of states require both parental consent and notification.
"Partial-birth" abortions refer to a controversial procedure that ends a pregnancy through a method which partially delivers an intact fetus before aborting it. The federal government has banned the use of this method in most cases (according to Gonzales v. Carhart (2007)). More than a dozen states have also banned partial-birth abortions, with a few of these states banning this procedure only after viability.
Most states prohibit the use of state funds to pay for abortions, except in a few circumstances - such as when federal funds are available, where the mother's life is in danger, or where rape or incest was involved. Other states allow abortions to be paid through state funds. One state (South Dakota) limits funding for abortion except when a mother's life is in danger.
Private Insurance Coverage
A handful of states cover abortions under private insurance plans, but only when a women's life is endangered if she carries the pregnancy to term. Other states allow individual health care providers to refuse abortions.
Under new laws, a growing number of states require women to view or hear the fetus through an ultrasound before undergoing an abortion.
Confused About Your State's Abortion Laws? Consider Speaking with an Attorney
Although abortion remains technically legal under federal and state law, states have been placing restrictions on access to the procedure. And since state abortion laws change rather frequently, sometimes professional legal advice is needed. Consider getting the help of a family law attorney for some clarity on an abortion-related legal matter today.