Update: On June 24, 2022 the US Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, writing that “the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.”
Despite efforts to limit access to abortion, Roe v. Wade has preserved American women’s right to terminate a pregnancy, a basic protection not available to many women around the world.
If the US Supreme overturns the decision, as suggested by a leaked draft opinion, abortion would become illegal in many US states, putting them on par with countries with some of the world’s most restrictive laws.
Since the US has no federal laws to protect access to abortion, states would revert to their own statutes. More than a dozen have laws in the books already that would ban abortion in most circumstances if Roe v. Wade is thrown out.
But in other states, women would continue to have broader access to abortion than their counterparts in many rich countries.
How US states compare to countries with gestational limits on abortion
In theory, the US allows any woman to have an abortion at any point before the fetus reaches viability, meaning that it can survive outside the mother’s body. Only a few countries have fewer restrictions than that. Canada (pdf), for example, doesn’t have any gestational limits.
To be sure, many US states have undermined federal protections with a variety of restrictions that make it harder to terminate a pregnancy, such as requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admission privileges. But in some states, women have fewer gestational limits on abortion than in many other countries. For example, France and Germany don’t allow women to have abortions past 14 weeks.
Of course, that picture would change if the Supreme Court rolls back federal protections on abortion. In Michigan, where an abortion ban pre-dates Roe v. Wade, the governor is calling to establish new state protections. Meanwhile, in Mississippi, all abortions, save in case of rape or to protect the mother’s life, would become illegal 10 days after the Supreme Court overturned its landmark abortion ruling. Without Roe, US states will likely diverge, with the country becoming at once one of the most and least restrictive places to seek an abortion.