Abortion ‘Trigger Laws’ in 3 States Take Effect This Week

When the laws in Texas, Idaho and Tennessee go into effect, a dozen states in total will have banned abortion.

A pro-lifer prays with a rosary outside the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois, on June 25.
A pro-lifer prays with a rosary outside the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois, on June 25. (photo: ANGELA WEISS / AFP via Getty Images)

“Trigger laws” banning most abortions with limited exceptions are set to take effect in three states — Texas, Idaho, and Tennessee — on Thursday, Aug. 25. 

When these laws go into effect, a dozen states in total will have banned abortion, most through “trigger laws” passed before the overturning of Roe v. Wade on June 24. 

According to SBA Pro-life America, the laws going into effect could prevent as many as 69,000 abortions each year across the three states. Katie Glenn, SBAPLA’s state policy director, told CNA that the pro-life organization is “really excited that states can finally enact policies that reflect the values of their people.”

The states in question all have provisions in their trigger laws stipulating that the laws would come into force 30 days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s official judgment overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide. 

Although the court’s opinion overturning Roe and giving states the authority to ban abortion was released June 24, its official judgment was not released until July 26, meaning that once each state’s attorney general certifies that the official judgment had arrived, the states’ trigger laws could come into effect 30 days later, on Aug. 25. 

Texas, as the second-most-populous state in the country, will be by far the largest state with a trigger law in effect. Under the law, all abortions will be illegal, though it does provide exceptions for when abortion may be necessary to prevent “serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”

Since September 2021, Texas has had a “heartbeat” abortion ban in place meant to be enforced through private lawsuits filed by citizens against those who perform abortions. John McNamara, who heads the Texas Pregnancy Care Network of pro-life pregnancy centers, told CNA that TPCN has seen 38% more pregnant clients than it did in the same period pre-pandemic. He said he expects an even larger increase in pregnant women seeking help after the trigger law takes effect. The TPCN has 178 locations across the state to provide free counseling, classes and items for pregnant families. 

“In the last 12 months, TPCN has provided over 1 million items to new parents, such as packages of diapers, wipes and car seats. With the new law change this week, TPCN anticipates its services will be needed more than ever and that it will continue to see a significant rise in clients served,” McNamara said. 

Idaho’s abortion law is currently facing legal scrutiny after an early August lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice sought to block its enforcement. Announcing the lawsuit in an Aug. 2 press conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the DOJ is suing the state because of what he argued is a conflict with a federal law that requires hospitals to provide stabilizing treatment to a person experiencing a medical emergency, regardless of their ability to pay. 

Garland asserted that Idaho‘s law will prevent doctors from performing abortions when the mother’s life is at risk, despite the law having an explicit carveout for such a situation. Idaho’s law provides an exception to the ban if the abortion was, in the physician’s judgment, “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman.” The first hearing for that lawsuit took place Aug. 22. 

Other than the life of the mother, the Idaho law’s only exception is for instances of rape or incest. In those cases, a copy of a police report would have to be provided to the physician performing the abortion. 

In Tennessee, abortion will soon be a Class C felony offense for the person performing it, unless the woman's life is in danger or at serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function. The offense can carry a three-to-15-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $10,000. The state currently disallows abortions after six-weeks gestation. 

All of the trigger laws have exceptions written into them for abortions that are deemed medically necessary to save the life of the mother. Medical professionals have pointed out that although certain lifesaving procedures may have the unintended consequence of interrupting a pregnancy, direct abortion is never necessary to save the mother’s life. 

In addition, some states also provide explicit exceptions for miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, though these are not generally considered abortions.

A few states have previously unenforceable bans on abortion still on the books, some of which date back more than 100 years. Of these states — Wisconsin, Michigan and West Virginia — only Wisconsin currently has its ban in effect, with the other two being blocked by courts. 

In three other states — North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming — abortion bans remain blocked while legal challenges play out.

Indiana became the first state to enact an abortion ban post-Dobbs, doing so on Aug. 5. Set to take effect Sept. 15, Indiana’s law outlaws all abortions with exceptions for abortions performed to preserve the life of the mother, as well as exceptions for instances of rape, incest or “fatal” fetal anomaly. Gov. Eric Holcomb also signed into law a measure that provides for a tax exemption for an adopted child, cuts the state’s tax on children’s diapers, caps the gas tax, and increases the adoption tax credit.