Since the Supreme Court announced its decision last Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the fate of abortion rights in the United States is now a matter for individual states and unincorporated territories to decide; many have already taken action.
As the second-largest state in the country, Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. Known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, this bill bans abortion after the detection of cardiac activity in a fetus, which typically occurs after six weeks of pregnancy. To the North, Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 4327 in late May, effectively outlawing abortion in the state. In less than a month, abortion providers in Oklahoma have largely stopped offering services, leaving doctors to refer patients to surrounding states such as Illinois, New Mexico, and Colorado; people who lack the means to travel between states are left without support.
This discussion spurs questions over how US territories come into play in a post-Roe America. Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa all have the option to impose restrictions, and recent reports indicate that many of them have already begun. Namely, Puerto Rican lawmakers are considering legislation that would illegalize abortions after 22 weeks, or when a doctor determines the fetus is viable. This is especially significant because Puerto Rico was “an abortion haven” for American women, as the island has had an underground network of doctors that performed the procedure since the early 1960s. In Guam, it is currently prohibited to terminate a pregnancy after 13 weeks. Moreover, legislators are considering reverting to an abortion ban dating back to 1990, which made it a felony for a doctor to perform the procedure except to save a woman’s life or prevent severe health complications. Lawmakers are also considering adding further restrictions by amending the bill to model Texas’s law that bans abortion after six weeks.
American Samoa currently illegalizes abortion with few exceptions, however, because the island lacks the facilities necessary to conduct the service, many Samoans are unable to terminate their pregnancies regardless of the territory’s political stance. In the US Virgin Islands, legislators have prohibited abortion after 24 weeks and mandate that the service is conducted in a hospital. By far the most restrictive of the US territories, the Northern Mariana Islands have completely illegalized abortion.
Restrictive bans like these leave many residents of US territories without support from their local or federal government. Unlike other mainland American residents who need an abortion, many US territory residents do not have the option to travel to a different state that offers the service; whether it’s due to lack of a passport, financial means, or otherwise, hundreds of Guamanians, Puerto Ricans, Samoans, and more might be unable to terminate their pregnancies.
As the effects of this landmark decision spread, people across the nation continue to wait, with bated breath, for what will happen next.