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Abortion rights activists say there's still work to do after Supreme Court leak

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Since a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked, people who oppose abortion rights have said they're excited and sobered by the prospect of overturning Roe v. Wade. If Roe is struck down, many say they'll still have work to do. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Republican strategist Deana Bass Williams teared up when she saw the leaked draft. She's ardently opposed abortion since she was a teenager. But then, after this decades-long fight, she says it felt like when the dog actually catches the car.

DEANA BASS WILLIAMS: It's kind of one of those situations where, because you never, ever thought it would happen in your lifetime, that now that it is actually happening, there will be a need to make it work.

LUDDEN: Part of that work will be winning over more people. Bass Williams is frustrated at media focus on how a majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade. Sure, she says, but many also support some limits. Getting rid of Roe would change the discussion. And she welcomes talking with abortion rights supporters about when they think life starts.

BASS WILLIAMS: You know, and I'll whittle you down and move you back until conception. But if we can just - if you can just tell me when you believe that a baby is a baby inside of a woman's womb, then let's start with that conversation.

LUDDEN: Terri Herring is also ready for what she calls a heart battle. She heads Choose Life Mississippi, directs the state chapter of Americans United for Life and has been an anti-abortion advocate for more than three decades.

TERRI HERRING: Abortion and Roe v. Wade has been our Goliath, OK? So now we've slain Goliath, presumably. So after you slay Goliath, there are still a lot of Philistines.

LUDDEN: That's because doing away with Roe would send the issue back to all 50 states to decide. Mississippi is one of 13 states with so-called trigger laws. If Roe falls, they would automatically ban abortion with few exceptions. In that case, Herring says her focus will be helping women navigate pregnancies they didn't plan for.

HERRING: We have these 30 pregnancy resource centers and to really say now, today, are you prepared because the women are coming?

LUDDEN: Herring herself unexpectedly got pregnant at age 18. She says she understands the O-M-G of it. But she thinks as more limits kick in, women would start to see that it doesn't have to ruin your life. Iowa is in a different place. Kristi Judkins heads Iowa Right to Life. She says legal battles there led the state Supreme Court to rule that there is a fundamental right to abortion.

KRISTI JUDKINS: That is in place. So regardless of the overturn of Roe v. Wade, in Iowa, we still have work to do, which is promoting and making sure Iowans are aware of our Protect Life Amendment.

LUDDEN: That would change the state Constitution to allow limits on abortion. It's been passed in the general assembly but will also need to pass in the next one. Of course, some Democratic-led states are already looking to boost abortion rights, even help women travel from other states for the procedure. So what about pushing for a national abortion ban? Republican strategist Bass Williams says, yes, if at some point there's a filibuster-proof Republican-majority Congress. But Terri Herring in Mississippi thinks that idea is a no-go. She asks, over the past half-century, what did Republican Congresses do on abortion?

HERRING: Nil. Nothing. Nada. OK? (Laughter) Roe has given them a way out. They can say they're pro-life and do nothing.

LUDDEN: If Roe goes away, she says, politicians in every state will be forced to do something about abortion, one way or the other.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.