News

Explainer: What Are 'Trigger Laws'?

Some states enacted laws to automatically ban or restrict abortion in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Published Jun 24, 2022

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 4:  Jack Ames gets his "Stop Abortion Now" sign blocked by a women holding a "Keep Abortion Legal" sign during a protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court December 4, 2002 in Washington, DC. The high court is hearing oral arguments in the Scheidler v. NOW case and is considering whether the RICO act can be used to punish anti-abortion protesters. Operation Rescue, anti-abortion leader Joseph Scheidler and others are appealing a case first dealt with nine years ago to the Supreme Court. The National Organization for Women (NOW) and abortion clinics in Wisconsin and Delaware sued the anti-abortion groups for "violent tactics."  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Image Via Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that provided constitutional protections for access to abortion for nearly 50 years. In the absence of those protections, individual states are now free to restrict, or ban, or protect abortion rights as they see fit.

This was a goal anti-abortion activists had worked toward for decades, though they had little hope of achieving it until a sufficient number of conservative justices had been appointed to the Supreme Court to comprise a majority, which finally occurred during the Trump administration. Anticipating the ruling, anti-abortion activists in some states campaigned for the passage of so-called "trigger laws," which would automatically restrict or eliminate access to abortion once Roe was overturned. Thirteen states (listed below) enacted such laws.

In a few of those states -- Kentucky, Louisiana, and South Dakota -- abortion (with certain exceptions, such as saving the life of the mother) became immediately illegal when the Supreme Court rendered its decision. In the rest, either a waiting period (usually 30 days) or an administrative action (such as certification by a state agency or official) is required before a ban or restrictions go into effect.

The following are the 13 states that enacted trigger laws rendering abortion automatically, and in some cases instantaneously, illegal:

States with Roe v. Wade Trigger Laws

States with Roe v. Wade trigger laws

Here is that same list with links to the relevant state laws:

In addition, according to the anti-abortion group the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the overturning of Roe would effectively automatically render abortion illegal in five other states — Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. This is because those states had pre-Roe abortion bans that were never repealed, even though Roe meant they were unenforced for 50 years.


Sources:

Jiménez, Jesus. “What Is a Trigger Law? And Which States Have Them?” The New York Times, 4 May 2022. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/04/us/abortion-trigger-laws.html.

Messerly, Megan. “Abortion Laws by State: Where Abortions Are Illegal after Roe v. Wade Overturned.” POLITICO, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/06/24/abortion-laws-by-state-roe-v-wade-00037695. Accessed 24 June 2022.

“Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade; States Can Ban Abortion.” The Associated Press, https://www.snopes.com/ap/2022/06/24/supreme-court-overturns-roe-v-wade-states-can-ban-abortion/. Accessed 24 June 2022.

“The State of Abortion in the United States.” National Right to Life, Jan. 2022, https://web.archive.org/web/20220506105655/https://www.nrlc.org/uploads/communications/stateofabortion2022.pdf.

Dan Mac Guill is a former writer for Snopes.

David Emery is a Portland-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.

Become
a Member

Your membership is the foundation of our sustainability and resilience.

Perks

Ad-Free Browsing on Snopes.com
Members-Only Newsletter
Cancel Anytime
default