What are abortion ‘trigger laws?’ KSAT Explains

Texas is one of thirteen states with trigger laws related to abortion

In the aftermath of the leaked document signaling the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to overturn its landmark decision on Roe v. Wade, there has been much discussion about trigger laws.

With Friday’s announcement that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned its landmark decision on Roe v. Wade, there has been much discussion about trigger laws.

If the high court’s official ruling, which was leaked last month, means abortion no longer has constitutional protection in the U.S.

RELATED: If Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Texas will completely ban abortion

And it means the Texas Trigger Law concerning abortion would take effect. That trigger law would ban abortions in the state within 30 days of the SCOTUS ruling, except in cases where pregnancy is life-threatening or has the potential to cause serious injury.

“A trigger law actually is a law passed by a legislature that goes into effect if or when the Supreme Court or the federal government changes a law,” said Jon Taylor, a professor of political science and department chair at UT San Antonio.

Think of it as a ‘just in case’ strategy.

This abortion trigger law has been on the books since the summer of 2021 after Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1280. It came out of the same legislature that passed Senate Bill 8, the controversial law banning Texas abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Thirteen states have trigger laws related to abortion. In addition to Texas, that list includes Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Mississippi, Kentucky, Idaho and Arkansas.

Like Texas, most of those states have their own abortion restrictions in place.

“Legislators, particularly in those red states that have been trying to oppose abortion, have knowingly passed these things with the intent of --really a hope as much anything else, or a wish -- that the Supreme Court would shift toward a more conservative view,” Taylor said. “And so they bid their time, basically.”

This is not the first trigger law in Texas.

Lawmakers passed one related to the Affordable Care Act, hoping the Supreme Court would strike down President Barack Obama’s plan.

There was even a trigger law related to the national speed limit in the early 1990s.

“Texas had a law on the books that said once the national mandatory speed limit is repealed, it literally triggered overnight the lifting of the speed limits and sending the state Transportation Department out to actually change the signs,” Taylor said.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade means states will decide whether to allow abortions.


What’s next for abortion after Supreme Court leak?

About the Author:

Myra Arthur is passionate about San Antonio and sharing its stories. She graduated high school in the Alamo City and always wanted to anchor and report in her hometown. Myra anchors KSAT News at 6:00 p.m. and hosts and reports for the streaming show, KSAT Explains. She joined KSAT in 2012 after anchoring and reporting in Waco and Corpus Christi.