Under Trump, Roe v. Wade May Face Its Greatest Threat Yet

Pro-choice activists shout slogans before the annual March for Life passes by the U.S. Supreme Court  in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22, 2015. 
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Pro-choice activists shout slogans before the annual March for Life passes by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22, 2015.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

If you click on the websites of pro-choice advocacy groups such as the Center for Reproductive Rights and NARAL Pro-Choice America, you find a clear call to action for those who support a woman’s right to an abortion, codified in the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade.


In the wake of the election of Donald Trump to be the next president, those who support abortion rights are concerned that if he follows through on his promise (pdf) to nominate only pro-life justices to the high court, the ruling could be overturned.

“It doesn’t mean anything good for women and families and gender equality in this country,” says NARAL National Communications Director Kaylie Hanson Long as she considers what would happen if a reconfigured U.S. Supreme Court goes after Roe v. Wade. “Already the landscape for reproductive health care in this country is bleak. … State laws have been passed in really large numbers to restrict access to abortion. … We know that when access to abortion is restricted, it’s not that women become safer; the number of injuries and deaths go up, and that’s a really scary thing to think about.”

Hanson Long adds that overturning Roe v. Wade would disproportionately affect women in red states, where there are already pro-life legislators and governors, as well as women of color. In a fact sheet, NARAL warns that there are 11 states with abortion bans enacted before Roe v. Wade, including Alabama and Louisiana, which criminalize any person providing an abortion. They were nullified under Roe. Another four states, including Mississippi, have so-called trigger bans that would impose criminal bans on abortion if Roe is overturned.

In a Nov. 13 appearance on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Trump was asked by Lesley Stahl whether he would appoint Supreme Court justices who were against abortion rights, and whether he was looking to appoint a justice who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade. He has released a list of potential Supreme Court justice picks, with the help of the conservative Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, and says he will appoint justices like the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who opposed Roe.

“I’m pro-life. The judges will be pro-life,” Trump told Stahl. “Having to do with abortion, if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the states.”

Asked whether that would mean some women wouldn’t be able to get an abortion, he replied: “Yeah, well, they’ll perhaps have to go, they’ll have to go to another state.”


When asked if it would be OK if women had to travel to obtain an abortion, Trump said, “We’ll see what happens. It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand. That has a long, long way to go.”

But while Trump told CBS that cases that have gone to the Supreme Court, such as marriage equality, have been settled, in February of this year he told the Christian Broadcasting Network that Roe was wrongly decided and “it’s been very strongly decided, but it can be changed.”


Pro-choice advocates are even more worried about Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who told a crowd in Michigan in July that Roe would be overturned if Trump won the election.

“I’m pro-life and I don’t apologize for it,” Pence said at a town hall meeting. “We’ll see Roe v. Wade consigned to the ash heap of history, where it belongs.”


Conservative activists such as Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser, who led Trump’s anti-abortion campaign, are pleased and fired up.

“The pro-life movement is in the strongest position it’s been in 40 years, since Roe v. Wade. This election has delivered a very powerful punch and, along with that, a very strong mandate,” Dannenfelser said during a postelection analysis by conservative leaders at the National Press Club the day after the election. She added that the power of the pro-life movement on the ground had been a sleeping giant that culminated in an enormous win in battleground states and states with tight Senate races.


“That’s why we’re poised to really believe all the very specific promises that Donald Trump made and, along with the leadership in the House and the Senate, to make sure that those promises become real, and that work will be a pleasure,” Dannenfelser said.

Most Americans think that abortion should be legal, though there is a sizable portion of the population that disagrees, and many also have moral concerns about the procedure.


Currently, there’s only a single vacancy on the high court, and many court watchers don’t believe that will be enough to jeopardize Roe v. Wade because there is currently a 5-3 majority supporting abortion rights. But if moderately liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy were to leave, then Trump could appoint two conservative justices.

That would leave a path to overturning Roe v. Wade, which would likely result in a patchwork of some states enacting tough abortion bans while others protected abortion access.


Allison Keyes is an award-winning correspondent, host and author. She can be heard on CBS Radio News, among other outlets. Keyes, a former national desk reporter for NPR, has written extensively on race, culture, politics and the arts. Follow her on Twitter.