Liberal and conservative groups are girding for battle over abortion rights under President-elect Donald Trump, after nearly a decade in which the Obama administration backstopped the rollback of those rights on the federal level.
Mr. Trump has adopted the antiabortion rights movement’s top priorities, vowing to nominate socially conservative Supreme Court justices, withhold federal funding from Planned Parenthood, and sign legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
“Expectations are very high for this pro-life White House and pro-life Congress,” said Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List, a nonprofit that opposes abortion.
Key appointments to Mr. Trump’s cabinet also appear to be lining up with antiabortion rights groups. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, picked to serve as U.S. attorney general, and Georgia Rep. Tom Price, one of the finalists for Health and Human Services secretary, are both staunch abortion opponents.
With Republicans now holding a majority in both chambers of Congress, the election of Mr. Trump is expected to reopen emotional debates in Congress over when life begins, a woman’s ability to make her own choices, and the appropriate role of government in family matters. While muted somewhat in Washington, those fights have been going on in statehouses with growing intensity, creating a patchwork of differing services available to women.
The mood in the pro-abortion rights community is grim.
“This is a dark time for women and families,” said Kaylie Hanson Long, spokeswoman for NARAL Pro-Choice America. “The vision and policies Donald Trump has proposed for America are a clear and present danger to women.”
But activists across the political spectrum say sweeping, nationwide change is unlikely to happen overnight, while skirmishes over abortion policy outside of Washington are expected to continue. November’s election left Republicans in control of both legislative chambers in 32 states, an all-time high for the party, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Since the Republican Party took over a majority of legislative chambers in 2010, states have enacted 334 measures restricting abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which researches reproductive health care. That is more regulation of abortion than occurred in the 15 previous years, creating a chasm between red and blue states that could widen under continued GOP dominance of state governments.
In his first remarks about abortion since the election, Mr. Trump on CBS’s 60 Minutes was asked how women could get abortions if Roe. v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing most abortions, is overturned. “Yeah, well, they’ll perhaps have to go, they’ll have to go to another state,” he said.
Yet, travel is already a requirement for many women seeking to terminate their pregnancies in conservative, rural parts of the country, where access to the procedure is limited by waiting periods and increased clinic regulations. The latest study by the Guttmacher Institute in 2011 found 38% of women live in counties with no abortion clinics. In the Midwest and the South—where Mr. Trump was the most popular—the rates are 53% and 49%, respectively.
“It’s already a very different view of abortion depending on where you’re located,” said Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher’s senior state issues associate. “The ground is laid in some states to move on very extreme abortion restrictions depending on how the federal constitution is interpreted.”
The road to overturning Roe v. Wade begins but doesn’t end with Mr. Trump’s nomination of a socially conservative judge to succeed the late Antonin Scalia. Five current justices—Justice Anthony Kennedy and the four reliable liberals—sided with abortion advocates in June and struck down new regulations on Texas clinics. It is also unclear as to what court case could present the next challenge to Roe v. Wade.
Passing a ban on late abortions is also complicated, even with Mr. Trump in the White House. Legislation outlawing abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy cleared the House last year but was blocked in the Senate. The November election left Republicans in control of the Senate but two votes farther away from a filibuster-proof majority.