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What are trigger laws? Examining states' preemptive legislative bans on abortion

By Amy Morona, digital content and social media producer

The Supreme Court passed Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago, making abortion legal across the United States.

But the court’s makeup has shifted in recent years. Republican President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the bench, leaving some states to draft their own abortion laws on the chance Roe is ever overturned.

Five states currently have what are known as "trigger laws" in place.

“They express a legislative intent to ban all or most abortions as soon as it’s legally and constitutionally possible to do so,” explained Florida State University College of Law professor Mary Ziegler.

While the majority of these laws were passed more than 10 years ago, Ziegler said she believes these types of measures are now gaining popularity and could have a higher chance successfully navigating through state legislatures. Similar legislation is currently being considered in several states, including Tennessee and Kentucky.

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“Even before Justice [Anthony] Kennedy’s retirement, as long as you have a Republican in the White House, I think anti-abortion legislators thought the court might change and wanted to be ready in the event that that happened,” she said.

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union are taking note. The Arkansas chapter of the ACLU called recently passed legislation in the state an “extreme and unnecessary attack on women and their health.”

Learn more about states that have already enacted these rules below.

  • Arkansas: The state’s trigger law went into effect last month. All abortions would be banned except in the case of medical emergencies, the Associated Press reported.
  • Louisiana: Former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed an act to ban abortions in 2006. The only exception is when a mother’s life is in danger.
  • Mississippi: Under the state’s rule, abortions would become illegal 10 days after a SCOTUS decision, according to WJTV. Exceptions would include a pending rape prosecution or if the mother’s life is in jeopardy.
  • North DakotaThe state passed legislation in 2007. “An abortion would only be defensible in court if it were deemed necessary to prevent the death of the mother or if the pregnancy resulted from rape, sexual abuse or incest,” the Grand Forks Herald reported.
  • South DakotaAll abortions would be deemed illegal except those deemed “medically necessary” by a doctor.