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With the end of Roe possibly in sight, anti-abortion rights groups plot their next steps

Abortion rights activists march in D.C.
Abortion rights activists gather in D.C. to march, protest potential Roe v. Wade reversal 02:16

Washington — After nearly 50 years of fighting for the Supreme Court to overturn its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-abortion rights movement is on the cusp of claiming victory and is preparing to shift the fight from the nation's highest court to state houses across the country.

A draft majority decision from the Supreme Court — circulated in February and confirmed as authentic by the court — indicated the justices may be poised to strike down its decision establishing the constitutional right to an abortion. Though the decision isn't final, the nation will know in the coming weeks whether the Supreme Court's conservative majority voted to bring an end to Roe, ushering in a new era of restrictions on abortion access.

"We still have a long battle ahead of us," Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, told CBS News. "If the court does overturn Roe, then we are in a position to protect more unborn children, but that means we have to work in 50 state legislatures, which we've been doing. But it's going to be a different battleground, and we still have a lot of people to educate and persuade."

If the high court does overturn or dismantle Roe, more than half of the states are expected to impose strict limits on abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. While Republican-led states are leading the charge of paring back abortion access — 13 have enacted so-called "trigger" laws in which abortion would be restricted immediately if Roe is overturned — Tobias is not shying away from undertaking campaigns in Democratic-led states acting today to protect abortion rights.

"It will take many years, but if we can convince the voters there to put different people in office, people who respect human life, that's an ongoing battle. And we're not just going to say, 'California is done' and wash our hands," she said.

A decision from the Supreme Court striking down Roe would shift abortion policy to the states, and the leaked draft opinion sparked a wave of proposals from Republican state lawmakers that go further than other abortion restrictions. 

In Louisiana's GOP-led House, a committee advanced a bill that would've made women who terminate their pregnancies subject to homicide prosecutions. The bill's sponsor, though, withdrew the measure last week after the state House voted to revamp it. 

Many anti-abortion rights organizations did not support the measure, and National Right to Life led an open letter to state lawmakers last week reiterating they "unequivocally" oppose legislation that punishes women who obtain abortions.

"In fighting for our country's future generations, we are called to act with love and compassion as we seek fairness, justice and liberty for unborn children and their mothers," the leaders of more than 75 groups said in the letter. "Criminalizing women is antithetical to this charge."

In addition to spurring legislation at the state level, the leaked draft opinion has reignited a focus from Republicans in Congress on passing measures imposing limits on abortion.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested in an interview with USA Today that a national abortion ban is "possible," though he acknowledged such a move "would depend on where the votes were." 

But clearing a national abortion ban through Congress is not without hurdles, as doing so would require Republicans to not only win the White House but also significant majorities in the House and Senate, where 60 votes are needed to advance legislation.

Sue Liebel, state policy director at Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion rights organization, said her group will continue working to grow majorities in Congress that would support federal legislation outlawing abortion and said there are other bills under consideration that would put "reasonable bumpers" on decisions by states to expand abortion access.

"That becomes a political factor in who's elected, who's in leadership, who's in the White House, so we will not be distracted from our goal," she told CBS News.

Republicans are confident they can retake the House in the November midterm elections, and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise told reporters last week that a GOP-majority would move "on day one" to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which requires health care practitioners to exercise care to preserve the life of a baby that survives an abortion.

"We're a party who defends life and and we would celebrate a ruling that allows elected leaders to defend life and debate in open public what those laws should be in every state and in Washington," he said.

Tobias, the National Right to Life Committee president, acknowledged it's difficult to see either party winning 60 seats in the Senate, which would make it easier for legislation to advance and limit the threat of a filibuster. But she said there are other areas of abortion policy for Congress to address, such as removing federal funding for abortion programs and strengthening laws to prohibit taking minors across state lines to obtain an abortion without parental consent or notification.

Still, many anti-abortion rights groups are approaching the coming weeks with cautious optimism as they near what could be the culmination of five decades of a campaign to overturn Roe.

"We've been working for this day for 50 years, and we also know, especially as it's gotten much closer in the spotlight and comes down the funnel, we've been able to focus on what it's going to look like," Liebel said. "A lot has changed since Roe, and we know much more."

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