The U.S. Supreme Court case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health has been making headlines for months, as people on both sides of the abortion issue anticipate how it may affect Roe v. Wade. The nation’s highest court heard oral arguments on this case last December, and a ruling is expected sometime in June of this year.
If the Court overturns Roe, the power to determine abortion policy will likely return to the states. So, how can states prepare themselves to stand for life should Roe be overturned? To answer this question, we welcome Sue Liebel, State Policy Director at the Susan B. Anthony List, to this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters.
Liebel shares how states have been taking action on abortion legislation long before Dobbs and a potential overturning of Roe. On the pro-abortion side, New York passed third-trimester abortion legislation in 2019. On the pro-life side, states have passed “heartbeat bills, 15-week bills, discrimination against babies with Down Syndrome and things like that … States are doubling down and pushing and pushing,” says Liebel.
In preparation for the Dobbs ruling, Liebel and the SBA List have been working closely with state lawmakers to look at their existing abortion laws, and decide whether they need to pass more pro-life legislation right away. “We just have a few short months for states to get ready,” says Liebel, since most legislatures are in session now but will adjourn before June. “So, we’re talking with them about their laws already on the books, and whether they need to be updated and what new legislation they should consider immediately now.”
In North Carolina, state law prohibits abortion after viability, which courts generally consider to be 24 weeks. “You’re going to have to be realistic and careful about what you can do,” continues Liebel, “given the fact that your governor is not pro-life, and any hesitation within your legislature. […] So elections matter!”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Sue Liebel discuss how the Susan B. Anthony List is helping states and pro-life groups gear up for a post-Roe America.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. For nearly half a century, tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of Americans have peacefully come together in our nation’s capital every January to stand up for life. This January, the mood at the annual March for Life was markedly more upbeat, and for good reason! The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a case that could potentially be a major turning point in abortion policy here in the U.S.
Sue Liebel serves as State Policy Director for the Susan B. Anthony List. Sue Liebel, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
SUE LIEBEL: Hello! Thanks for having me.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a potentially landmark pro-life case. What is the question being considered in the Dobbs case, and what’s at stake?
SUE LIEBEL: This is a great question, because I think for some, it may seem confusing on its face. The case is out of Mississippi. In 2018, the state of Mississippi passed a bill that would limit abortion at 15 weeks. The question in this case is something we’ve been waiting for really since Roe was decided in 1973, and the question is can a state limit abortion? Does it have the jurisdiction to limit abortion prior to when a baby is viable, which means a baby can live outside the womb. Now, you have seen a lot of states pass heartbeat bills or even a 15-week bill or 12-week bill or whatever. All of those on their face have never been upheld in court because the baby is not viable at 6 weeks or at 10 weeks or at 15.
So the question really is—it’s a much broader question than the case itself—the question is can a state limit abortion prior to viability? And if the answer is yes, it will just destroy Roe v. Wade. So what this will also mean is it’ll return it back to the people of the state, which is where it came from before the United States Supreme Court overreached in 1973. So for the first time in almost 50 years, we’ll have the opportunity to pass ambitious laws at the state level. It’s possible that they’ll overturn Roe; it’s possible that they’ll uphold 15 weeks; it’s possible they’ll do something else, but this is the key question on the table.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: And why now? Why is this a time that they would potentially consider this?
SUE LIEBEL: Well, that is a great question. Actually, the Court can be very unpredictable, and we’re not sure why they do what they do, but what is extremely obvious is that since 1973, we have not gone along graciously to this. States are still…in fact, it’s heating up even more lately in the last few years: heartbeat bills, 15-week bills, discrimination against babies with Down Syndrome and things like that. That’s before viability. All of these things, states are doubling down and pushing and pushing. So it’s not going to get settled anytime soon.
So, they’re going to have to take up something because all of our courts are getting blocked up with all these cases and states just aren’t backing down. The other thing we know—and of course we’re very excited about it—it’s no secret that that under President Trump, he was able to appoint three conservative Supreme Court Justices. And so we feel like this is the best shot we’ve had in quite some time; it’s the best court we could go to in quite a long time, if ever since Roe.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So we don’t know how the court will rule. Did we get some indication, though, of what the justices may be thinking during oral arguments that were given back in December?
SUE LIEBEL: It’s still possible for justices to change their minds; we know that they take pre-votes just secretly amongst themselves and they get to lobby each other and go back and forth. But on December 1st, we felt that those oral arguments went very well and we were cautiously optimistic. Even the Chief Justice noted how extreme our U.S. abortion laws are. So a lot of good information came out. The questioning was good and solid, and even like I said, the Chief Justice mentioned how extreme our laws are. So I think we got the point across pretty well, and so that gives us a lot of hope.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: When do we expect a ruling?
SUE LIEBEL: Probably this summer. In the past, the Court has tended to issue some of its biggest or most controversial opinions in late June. So we’ve kind of got June on our calendar. This is before they leave for their summer break, right as they walk out the door. So, we’re all kind of looking at late June.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So what can states be doing in the meantime to prepare for that ruling, no matter which way it goes?
SUE LIEBEL: So right now, most state legislatures are in session. Some states are year round, but most states are just part-time, starting in January of any given year—January through April, May, maybe sometimes June, but that’s it. So then if you want to make a law, you have to come back at the next January. So we just have a few short months for states to get ready and then their sessions are going to end later in the spring. So we’re doing the research; we’re communicating with our allies and legislators around the country about what laws they already have on the books. Some states already have a pre-Roe ban. It was banned before Roe v. Wade, which if those weren’t removed, then theoretically it’s going to be banned after Roe v. Wade. Or they have what we call a trigger law that says if the Supreme Court ever reverses Roe, then our state will make abortion illegal. And by the way, a couple of those in states would make it legal. So we’re talking with them about their law already on the books, and whether they need to be updated and what new legislation they should consider immediately now, before they adjourn before June.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay. So have you looked at North Carolina and how are we looking?
SUE LIEBEL: In North Carolina, you have abortion is illegal after viability. So, in the state of North Carolina, abortions can happen up until viability, which is generally considered—let’s just say in the court—at around 24 weeks. You did pass a 20-week ban because a baby can feel pain at that time. Now, this is quite some time ago. Now we know that a baby can feel pain at 15, maybe even as early as 12 weeks. North Carolina did that, but it was enjoined in the court and still is; there’s still an injunction for that. So you’re still at viability. You did pass a law to prohibit discriminatory abortions, like if a baby has Down Syndrome for example, or because of the baby’s sex—the sex election—but we know that your governor vetoed that last year. So you’re still at viability. If the Supreme Court does return the power to the states to ban pre-viability abortion, it’ll stay legal in North Carolina until your legislature and your governor does something about that.
So, the suggestion for North Carolina would be to go for a more comprehensive ban on abortion. If your legislature is not in session at that time? A couple other legislatures around the country are saying that they’re going to call a special session. The governor or in some cases the legislature can call itself back into session to deal with that. It’ll be a huge issue; it’ll just rock the country; it’ll just be a rock and roll kind of day or month. In North Carolina, though, you’re going to have to be, I think, realistic and careful about what you can do, given the fact that your governor is not pro-life and/or any hesitation within your legislature. So it’s going to come down to your legislature to pass the laws, and it’ll come down to your governor to sign them and/or the legislature to override them. So elections matter!
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: They do matter, and mattering more and more on the state level these days, but it’s not just all about laws, is it? I mean, we really need to persuade the hearts and minds of people.
SUE LIEBEL: Yes, that’s so true. It really is true, and it’s the same way with a lot of things. We can pass laws, but what we really want to do is make abortion not just illegal but unthinkable. So this is also a cultural or a moral or ethical kind of issue as well, to change the hearts and minds of people in our communities. So we need to continue. Even if Roe is overturned completely, there will still be states that will make it legal. Really what’s going to happen in the Dobbs case is that if they overturn Roe, they’ll give it back to the states. So states like New York and New Jersey and Illinois and others, they’re going to keep it legal. So, you’re going to see—just like before Roe—you’re going to see women traveling to go get an abortion. It’s a little bit different day and age we have since 1973. We know that in some of those states where it would be legal, they’re making it a tourist destination; they’re putting incentives on hotels and travel. I mean, it’s all for abortion!
But really talking to your neighbors, our church communities, our civic communities—really just talking about the scourge that is abortion. It doesn’t just kill babies; it kills the souls of women. We see so, so many times women and their regret. We have millions of women in this country, and frankly, when they hear these debates on TV or on the evening news, or they see the rioting or whatever, it’s very hurtful as well. But the other side just doesn’t care about that. They just want to keep that legal, but we need to make abortion unthinkable. We need to also help women heal and help families forward.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: How do the United States’ abortion laws compare to other countries around the world?
SUE LIEBEL: That’s a great question, and it is I think shocking to a lot of people to learn that we are just one of seven countries around the world—including China and North Korea—that allow late term abortion on demand after five months, or more than halfway through a pregnancy, well after science shows that that baby can feel that abortion. We are just one of seven nations, and those aren’t the kind of nations we really want to be in the same company with anyway, with their civil rights problems and things like that. So we’re not in good company. Also, we know some newer research just came out a few months ago that 47 out of 50, 47 out of 50 European nations limit elective abortion even before 15 weeks like the Mississippi law, which is at the center of the Dobbs case. So even if the Supreme Court comes down on 15 weeks—which they don’t have to, but that’s what’s on the table—then we’re still behind Europe as most of Europe limits it before that anyway. So we are really extreme.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: People may not realize either how aggressive Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates are to exporting this view of abortion on demand.
SUE LIEBEL: Oh my goodness, yes! In fact, it depends on the president. So under Democratic presidents, we started sending money overseas for abortion. And then when Trump came in—we called that the Mexico City Policy—on his first day in office, he stopped that. And then literally President Biden on his first day in office opened the spigots again for money overseas. There are global abortion providers sending the abortion pills either by mail or on ships going from shore to shore. I mean, it’s just kind of crazy, but the abortion industry? It has truly become a business model and an industry. Follow the money, that kind of thing. It is not unlike what some people call “Big Pharma” or things like that of things that we use every day. So this has become a big business, a big industry; it’s a big money maker.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, thank you so much. We’re just about out of time. Where can our listeners go to learn more about your work there at the Susan B. Anthony List?
SUE LIEBEL: Our website is SBAList.org. We have a lot of scientific and pro-life facts and medical facts like fetal pain and other things at our Charlotte Lozier Institute website. Then also Charlotte Lozier has launched a beautiful new website called voyageoflife.com, which shows the development of a baby from conception and on into viability and birth and at the 15 week mark what happens, since that’s the big case. When pain starts and recognition and things—it’s just absolutely stunning. That’s voyageoflife.com. But our overall umbrella organization is SBA—stands for Susan B. Anthony List—SBAList.org.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Sue Liebel, State Policy Director for the Susan B. Anthony List, thanks so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters.
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