Today is the 50th anniversary of the Roe v Wade ruling - a decision by the United States Supreme Court that had the effect of making abortion legal in all 50 states.
But the ruling hasn't lasted for the anniversary. Last June, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in another case, known as Dobbs.
That ruling ended the national legalisation of abortion and returned decision making power on abortion law to each of the 50 states. In the aftermath of the ruling, more than a dozen states have enforced bans on all or nearly all abortions, while a similar number are taking action to severely restrict abortion services compared to what was permitted by Roe v Wade.
But in the other half of the states, there has been legislative action to retain or re-enforce access to legal abortion.
There have even been several referendums on the issue during the last six months – but the anti–abortion side has lost in all six cases.
Roe v Wade was one of the most contentious Supreme Court decisions in US history and its impact continues to be felt right across the nation half a century on, with the Dobbs ruling unleashing a new wave of energy into both sides in this country’s abortion debate.
Over the last five decades the abortion question (and linked political issues of states' rights) has become a very powerful and polarising issue in American politics. It has become over time an issue to separate Republican and Democrat voters and politicians.
Back in the 1970s there was a sort of cross-party consensus in Washington that the issue was settled by the Row v Wade decision with most (but not all) members of Congress tacitly accepting the ruling, which appeared to reflect polling evidence that Americans favoured legal abortion by about two to one, a ratio that broadly holds today.
But for those who were horrified by Roe v Wade, it became a cause to mobilise around. Over time, anti-abortion activists made significant inroads in the Republican Party, with more party activists – and eventually more politicians – taking a more anti-abortion line.
Every year since 1974, a demonstration against Roe v Wade, the March for Life, has been held in Washington DC, growing into one of the largest - organisers claim the largest – annual marches in the country.
Its founder, Nellie Gray, said the March for Life should continue until the Roe v Wade ruling was overturned. (The New York Times credits Grey with popularising the term "pro-life" in American discourse.)
Roe v Wade was overturned, but on Friday the March for Life returned to Washington – a huge display by people from across the country who now want to see an end to abortion. It used to end each year outside the US Supreme Court.
This year the route changed to take it around the United States Capitol building, indicating that the movement now has its sights set firmly on political and legislative action.
The activists who took part in the March for Life (and all those who preceded them) can claim some credit for realising their objective in a battle that took half a century. Buoyed by that success, they want to go further, particularly at the state level, and want more states to introduce bans or severe restrictions.
Some would also like a federal ban on abortion (even though returning the power to legislate on abortion to the states from the federal level was one of the key arguments by opponents of the Roe v Wade ruling).
One example of how the states have become the new battleground in the wake of the Dobbs ruling is Kansas, a republican leaning state.
In the wake of the Dobbs ruling, Republican lawmakers moved to ban abortion in the state. But the move required a referendum, as the State Supreme Court had ruled illegal an earlier attempt to ban abortion in 2019.
Under the Hodes judgement, the Kansas Supreme Court said Kansans enjoy a right of bodily integrity under the constitution, and thereby have the right to abortion.
The referendum top effectively ban abortion, held last August, was defeated by 59% to 41% - the first sign that abortion could become a potent political issue at the mid-term elections.
Despite the strong vote in favour of legal abortion in a Republican voting "Red State", a local state senator on Thursday introduced a bill in the Kansas legislature that, if passed, would allow local authorities to issue their own restrictions and regulations on abortion – moving the issue down below state level.
Senator Chase Blasi acknowledged that any restrictions brought in by county councils would face legal challenge, but claimed the Kansas Supreme Court ruling in the Hodes case needed more clarity and said the courts would have to rule on a case by case, authority by authority basis – something that could tie up the courts and politics in that state for years – if the bill is passed.
It’s been condemned by abortion-rights group Planned Parenthood as a "blatant disregard of the will of the people".
Another Republican Senator in the Kansas, Mark Steffen had earlier introduced a bill to ban the dispersal of abortion pills by online consultation and prescription.
Abortion rights activists are also closely watching an effort in the Kansas State House to create a process for the impeachment of State Supreme court justices.
Abortion rights activists have also been galvanised by the Dobbs ruling – as has the Democratic Party. As the Republican Party has been shaped into being the party with an anti-abortion platform, so the Democrats have morphed into being the party of abortion rights defenders.
Many republican lawmakers and party members are not happy with their party being so strongly identified with moves to restrict abortion: in a tight two-party system going against almost two thirds of the voters can make life difficult electorally.
This was seen in last Novembers mid-term elections. President Joe Biden's dismal approval rating, high inflation and rising dissatisfaction with the Democrat majorities in the House and Senate meant that in the springtime it was odds on that the Democrats were in for the proverbial shellacking in the mid-term election – that they would be swept away in a red wave.
But then Row v Wade was overturned. Very quickly President Biden and the Democratic Party fastened onto the demographics of the upending of half a century of abortion law and saw in it an issue that could swing voters their way.
It did. The Republicans won far fewer seats than expected. The party is now facing internal division between those elected members who want to push ahead with introducing abortion bans or restrictions wherever they can, and those who think the issue has turned off a significant number of voters who should have voted republican last November, but who did not agree with the party’s stance on abortion.
This group believes they should leave the issue alone, or let the states sort it out, but not have anti-abortion activism a prominent part of the party’s platform.
Former President Donald Trump reportedly told Republican activists privately that the overturning of Roe v Wade could play badly for the party in the November elections.
He was the only sitting President who has ever addressed the March for Life in Person. His vice President Mike Pence did as well – and he too is a likely contender for the Republican nomination in 2024.
Mr Trump’s reported concerns were proven most true in the Senate seat race in Pennsylvania, where Democrat John Fetterman took the Republican held seat in a race where exit polls showed abortion rights were the voters biggest concern.
The November general elections also included five state-level referendums on the issue of abortion. In Kentucky and Montana, voters rejected propositions that would have further restricted abortion access. In California, Vermont and key battleground state Michigan, voters passed amendments to protect abortion rights.
In Michigan, another state where voters ranked abortion rights their top concern, the Democrats won the Governorship and control of both houses in the state legislature for the first time in three decades.
Today vice President Kamala Harris is in Florida to make a speech on defending abortion rights – pledging once again the administration's support for those seeking to maintain abortion rights in each of the states and calling for national legislation to protect abortion rights across the country.
Florida, the third most populous state in the US, is particularly noteworthy, as its Governor, Ron De Santis, is seen now as the chief rival to Donald Trump for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2024.
Governor De Santis has already signed into law a ban on abortions in the past 15 weeks: abortion rights activists think he may try and restrict the law even further as part of a White House bid. Supporters of De Santis say he has been very careful in his political moves and looks very closely at the electoral demographics.
President Biden, himself eyeing another run at the Presidency in 2024, is also positioning himself on one side of the abortion debate, hoping for a repeat of the November electoral effect.
In it he said: "The Court got Roe right 50 years ago. It was a balanced decision with broad national consensus that the majority of Americans have continued to support for the last 50 years. And it was a constitutional principle upheld by justices appointed by Democratic and Republican Presidents alike."
He also pledged to continue to seek a national law that would preserve the abortion rights granted across the nation by the Roe v Wade ruling. "Since the Court’s decision to overturn Roe, Americans across the country - from California to Kansas to Michigan - have made clear at the ballot box that they believe the right to choose is fundamental and should be preserved.
"Still, we know that the only way to truly secure the right to choose is for the Congress to codify the protections of Roe v Wade. I continue to call on the Congress to pass legislation to make those protections the law of the land once and for all. Until then, I will continue to use my Executive authority to protect women and families from harm in the wake of the Dobbs decision."
But nothing is likely to happen either way at national level during the next two years: Republicans control the House of Representatives with a narrow majority, Democrats control the Senate – the outcome of an election in which the fallout of the Roe v Wade overturning played a big role.
The two houses are most unlikely to agree to either a national ban on abortion or national abortion rights.
Which is why both sides in Americas abortion debate are now focused on the fifty state Houses and State supreme courts, not on Washington DC.