What Are 'Trigger Laws'? SCOTUS Leak Sends Red States Preparing for Bans

More than a dozen Republican-led states have "trigger laws" on the books that would make abortions illegal for the millions of people who live there should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

The Supreme Court appears ready to reject the landmark decision that guarantees abortion rights in the United States, according to a leaked draft opinion obtained by Politico. The ruling would upend abortion rights in the United States, allowing some states to completely ban or weaken the practice.

"Trigger laws" are preemptive abortion bans passed in 13 states that would move to quickly ban or weaken abortion access in the case the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The court ruling would essentially "trigger" the enforcement of the laws—rather than have state legislatures wait until after the ruling is already overturned to pass a ban on abortion.

States that have trigger laws include Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

Thirteen states' trigger laws would ban abortion
Trigger laws would quickly make abortion illegal in 13 states should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. Above, protesters gather outside the Supreme Court on May 2, 2022, to protest a leaked opinion draft indicating justices will strike down Roe. Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

Many of these bans—including Wyoming's, signed into law in March—were passed in the past few years when former President Donald Trump appointed three conservative justices—Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett— to the nation's highest court.

Some Republicans viewed those confirmations to the Supreme Court as an opportunity to strike down Roe for the first time since the 1973 ruling, prompting states to preemptively pass the trigger laws. Some states passed the laws many years earlier.

Essentially, abortion could be illegal in large swaths of the country due to these laws, especially in the southeast, soon after Roe was overturned. However, the leaked opinion draft is not concrete and the justices' final votes could change by the time it's decided in a late June or early July ruling.

Trigger laws have faced criticism from abortion rights advocates. After Arkansas passed a trigger law in 2019, the state's ACLU slammed it as an "extreme and unnecessary attack on women and their health."

Five other states—Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, West Virginia and Wisconsin—have separate bans on abortion that predate Roe v. Wade. The bans would again go into effect if the court overturns the decision.

The leaked opinion has prompted abortion rights advocates to push for Congress to pass federal legislation ensuring abortion rights—a move that would likely struggle to pass the Senate due to the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass legislation.

Many Democratic-led states, however, already have protections in place in case the decision is overturned as abortion rights advocates sound the alarm about the future of abortion in the United States. In the leaked ruling, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito did not back a federal ban but instead opted to leave the issue up to each individual state.

"The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives," he wrote.