The Supreme Court may have tossed abortion decisions back to the states, but groups against abortion rights are still making a nationwide push.
They spent almost 50 years laying the groundwork for so-called trigger laws to go into effect once federal abortion rights were overturned.
We were able to really get a little bit more creative with our laws and seeing just how far can we go to effectively protect unborn children.
That's Ingrid Duran of the National Right to Life Committee.
Utah's among several states with a trigger law.
A federal judge is hearing arguments today over whether to let the measure go into effect after temporarily halting the restrictions.
But how did we get here?
NPR's Ximena Bustillo is following their efforts. Welcome.
Thank you for having me.
Who are the two groups you are focusing on here?
I focused on the National Right to Life Committee and Americans United for Freedom.
These are two groups that for decades have been working with their staffs to craft legislation for statehouses to really heavily restrict abortion or outright completely ban it on the hope that one day Roe would be overturned.
The way that these groups work is that they write their own bills that state lawmakers can just copy and paste and put their name on, or they can kind of take independent parts and provisions to make into their own bills that might eventually be signed into law.
I spoke to Elizabeth Nash, the state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that supports abortions. Here's what she said.
So we saw these legislatures adopting restriction after restriction, and that moved states to then start thinking about abortion bans because most of these states had adopted pretty much every restriction in the book.
They also have state affiliates that will do much of the same work.
These organizations were successful in using their legal service, using their knowledge base, using their ability to lobby, to incrementally set the groundwork for total abortion bans in some states in the hope that Roe would be overturned.
Oh, that's interesting.
So they were working at the state level with an idea of how the bills passed there might be judged by the Supreme Court eventually.
How did their strategy evolve over all these many years?
Right. Well, whether it's the local level or the national level, the makeup of the Supreme Court absolutely mattered on the risk that there would someday be a challenge and also because it's not practical policy to pass a bill that's immediately going to be blocked in court.
Then your law cannot be enacted. It can't work.
So, for example, when Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was perceived as a swing vote on abortion issues, was on the court, these groups introduced bills all over the country that would ban abortion after 20 weeks because Kennedy was seen as more likely to vote in favor of a bill like that versus a bill that would completely ban abortion.
Then we saw the strategy change again.
Former President Trump was able to place three very conservative justices on the court, and that gave activists a lot of room to work with.
Ingrid Duran, director of the Department of State Legislation at the National Right to Life Committee, put it this way.
Because with Kennedy, we saw him as a swing vote.
But once we got Gorsuch, once we've got Amy Coney Barrett and Kavanaugh, that swing vote idea went away, and we were able to really get a little bit more creative with our laws and seeing just how far can we go to effectively protect unborn children.
And in 2019, we saw a new wave of trigger laws be introduced and passed in states after no movement since 2007.