In state after state since 2019, anti-abortion politicians have moved to ban abortion at six weeks of pregnancy — a point before many people even know they’re pregnant. In the state of Texas, such a ban has gone into effect — imposing one of the most extreme abortion bans this country has ever seen.
The politicians behind these bans have one goal: to push abortion out of reach, outlawing it in all but name.
Banning Abortion at 6 Weeks Makes It Physically Impossible to Obtain
These bans make it both medically and logistically impossible for most people to determine that they are pregnant and arrange for safe, legal abortion care in time to beat the 6-week deadline. For most people, 6-week bans would stop access to abortion a mere two weeks after a missed period.
It’s no surprise why doctors oppose 6-week abortion bans. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) confirms that pregnant people are often unaware they’re pregnant before the 6-week mark from their last period. Not yet knowing you’re pregnant is one of many reasons that most surgical abortions take place after the 6-week mark; other reasons include needing time to save up money for the procedure and associated costs — such as traveling to the provider, taking time off school or work, lodging, and child care (a substantial majority of people who have abortions are already mothers).
Women often are unaware they are pregnant prior to six weeks [from their last menstrual period].—Thomas Gellhaus, M.D., past president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The narrow health exceptions written into some 6-week abortion bans simply do not adequately allow physicians to exercise their medical judgment to protect pregnant people's health in all circumstances. As ACOG notes, many complications that threaten pregnant people’s health can’t be detected until later in pregnancy. So taking away access to abortion could lead to serious complications, and even maternal mortality.
Attempts to Ban Abortion at 6 Weeks Have Surged
While the Texas abortion ban is the first of its kind to go into effect, 6-week abortion bans are nothing new. In 2011, Ohio politicians introduced the nation’s first 6-week ban (they have since proposed multiple similar bills). Ohio’s initial attempts never went into effect, but they paved the way for other states to push equally dangerous copycat laws.
North Dakota was the first state to enact a ban on abortion at six weeks in 2013. Iowa became the second in 2018. Courts blocked both laws for being unconstitutional, but the 6-week bans have kept coming — and their numbers have skyrocketed.
Mississippi enacted a 6-week ban in 2019 — but a federal court blocked it from going into effect.
Politicians in many other states — including Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia — have introduced or considered 6-week bans.
Some of these bills criminalize abortion providers, and would keep pregnant people from accessing abortion in instances of rape and incest, without exceptions. Other 6-week bans, like the one in Georgia, would require any patient seeking an abortion to undergo a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound — and would require sexual-assault survivors to obtain and provide an official police report. Moreover, the Georgia bill would subject all people who experience the termination of a pregnancy at 6 weeks or later to criminal liability, exposing anyone who has a miscarriage to the risk of criminal charges.
Politicians in Texas wrote that state’s 6-week ban, known as S.B. 8, to encourage vigilantes — literally. An unprecedented provision within the Texas ban emboldens ordinary citizens to enforce it. In fact, the abortion ban offers a cash incentive to people who file lawsuits against someone they think is breaking the law — establishing an award of at least $10,000 for every lawsuit that successfully blocks a pregnant person from getting an abortion in Texas. Since S.B. 8 contains no upper limit on the number of lawsuits, anyone who provides or helps a patient obtain an abortion in Texas could face a rush of suits from organized anti-abortion activists.
Efforts to Ban Abortion at 6 Weeks Mean That Politicians Want a Supreme Court Fight
The Supreme Court was clear in Roe v. Wade that states cannot ban abortion. So why would politicians flout well-settled precedent, and put patients and doctors at risk in the process? Because they want to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Several 6-week bans already face lawsuits, and that’s just what the politicians behind them want. They want a challenge to our constitutional right to safe, legal abortion that reaches the Supreme Court. With Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and others who have track records of opposing abortion access now in lifetime positions on the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, politicians pushing these bans believe that time — and the judiciary — may well be on their side.
Americans Support Safe, Legal Abortion
Blocking access to reproductive health care through measures like 6-week abortion bans — and ignoring clear Supreme Court precedent in the process — requires zealous ideological commitment. But politicians’ motivation is clear: they seek to mobilize the small minority of voters who want to ban abortion nationwide.
In pushing these bans, anti-abortion politicians are ignoring the vast majority of people in the United States who support the right to access abortion without political interference. In fact, 79% of Americans say that they don’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
Who Gets Hurt If Abortions Beyond 6 Weeks Are Banned?
Abortion is such a common medical procedure that 6-week bans will hurt many of us. Every day, people across America face the deeply personal decision of whether or not to continue their pregnancies. Nearly one in four women in America has an abortion during her lifetime.
But like all restrictions on safe and legal abortion, banning abortion at 6 weeks burdens low-income people the most. Such bans would force people to go to extreme and costly lengths to access abortion safely and legally. When safe, legal abortion providers are hundreds of miles and many hours away, people with low incomes struggle to reach the care they need — if they can get it at all. Women who can’t access abortion are three times more likely to end up below the federal poverty line.
For many people, these barriers effectively ban abortion — and women of color, who already face significant barriers to health care and attacks on their bodily autonomy, bear the brunt. Black, Hispanic, and Native American women experience poverty at more than twice the rate of non-Hispanic white women, and may lack the financial resources or job flexibility to make these trips. The cost of transportation, childcare, and time off work necessary to obtain an abortion can combine to put access out of reach. This is hardest on people who already face barriers to accessing health care, including people of color, immigrants, young people, people with disabilities, women, LGBTQ people, people living in rural areas, and people with low incomes.
Women of color are already less likely to be able to access an abortion. Racism and other systemic barriers have contributed to income inequality that makes Black people and Latinos in the United States more likely to use federally funded insurance to access health care. Though 15 states allow the state portion of Medicaid to fund all or most necessary abortions, millions of women live in states that ban public funding of abortion with few exceptions — and in some states, legislators have also used cultural misinformation to craft restrictions to target Asian-American women’s access to abortion.
Women of color also have less access to contraception—leading to more unintended pregnancies. Among other reasons, Latina women and non-Hispanic Black women are less likely to have access to family-planning services, which can result in significantly lower rates of effective contraceptive use. Limited access to health insurance and contraception can both contribute to heightened rates of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
The Bottom Line: Banning Abortion at 6 Weeks is Unconstitutional and Unsafe
Abortion is health care. Every person deserves to access it.
The decision to have an abortion should be left up to the pregnant person, in consultation with their doctor and family — not a politician. 6-week abortion bans are dangerous attacks on reproductive health and rights, and they reflect an ideology out of touch with what the majority of Americans want from political leaders.