One year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the United States Constitution does not protect a woman’s right to an abortion, the debate has moved to state courts and constitutions across the country and here in North Carolina.

Following the SCOTUS decision, activists, and politicians on both sides of the abortion issue immediately began searching for protections within state constitutions that litigants might rely on to fight for, or against, new restrictions.

Currently, 11 states have explicit provisions within their constitutions that protect the right to privacy. In response, state constitutional amendments have been put on ballots across the country further limiting or expanding abortion access.

Wake Forest University professor of politics and international affairs, John Dinan, says the prospects of that happening in North Carolina are slim.

"If the legislature in a state might not be supportive of a given policy — abortion rights protections — in those states, the people can bypass their legislature and amend their state constitution to protect abortion rights," says Dinan. "North Carolina does not have that procedure. So, it would take the North Carolina legislature being interested in proposing an amendment to the state constitution to protect abortion rights. There’s not much sign of the North Carolina legislature currently doing that."

Dinan says the leading result of the Dobbs decision has been a patchwork of policies regarding abortion rights — states with restrictive policies neighboring those with less restrictive ones. He adds that with their decision, the Supreme Court justices have essentially removed themselves from the debate moving forward, and that void is being filled today by state supreme court justices.  

"We just had elections for North Carolina Supreme Court just last November," he says. "These issues were raised: How would these justices who are on the ballot, how would they rule on cases concerning abortion rights? And so, what we’re going to see is, in North Carolina we’ll have judicial elections coming up in 2024. We can expect the question of abortion rights to be front and center."

Dinan says the country may see a bit of convergence over time as states develop some common policies with regard to abortion access. But, equally likely, he says, will be states with dramatically different approaches that will continue to be the case moving forward.

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