Roe v. Wade attorney: Trump is biggest threat yet to reproductive rights

Forty-four years ago, the Supreme Court made a surprise ruling in favor of a young attorney, declaring abortion legal nationwide. Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued Roe v. Wade, says now that her legacy — and the law itself— has never been more at risk.

Just 26 years old at the time, Weddington knew she was going against the odds as she fought on behalf of Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff known as Jane Roe in the landmark case. McCorvey had been denied an abortion in her home state of Texas, and Weddington, who hadn't done much legal work other than divorce cases and wills before representing McCorvey, ended up before the Supreme Court to argue the biggest women's rights case of the century.

Today, on the anniversary of the decision, Weddington feels as if the fight for women's reproductive rights is harder than ever.

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guests fill hte West Front of the US Caaptol in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2017, before the swearing-in ceremony of US President-elect Donald Trump. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, left, wipes the shoulder of U.S. President Barack Obama while standing outside of the White House ahead of the 58th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. Trump is the first president since the dawn of national polling in the late 1930s to enter office with the approval of fewer than half of Americans -- in his case only 40 percent. Photographer: TKTK/Pool via Bloomberg
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: (L-R) Tiffany Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump, Vanessa Trump and Jared Kushner arrive on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: The presidential motorcade drives down Pennsylvania Ave towards the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush wave as they arrive on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Former President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn Carter arrive on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
US Chief Justice John Roberts (C-front) arrives with US justice William Rehnquist (L) on the platform of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2017, before the swearing-in ceremony of US President-elect Donald Trump. / AFP / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Former U.S. Preident George W. Bush and former first landy Laura Bush arrive at the swearing in ceremony at the United States Capitol January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Donald J. Trump will become the 45th President of the United States today. (Photo by Doug Mills - Pool/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden arrive for the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2017. / AFP / POOL / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: President Elect Donald Trump arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: President Elect Donald Trump arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
US President elect Donald Trump (R) and Vice President elect Mike Pence seat during the swearing-in ceremony on in front of the Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2017. / AFP / Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence takes the oath of office from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as his wife Karen Pence looks on, on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: President Elect Donald Trump shakes hands with Vice President Mike Pence on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President elect Donald Trump (C) salutes his daughter Ivanka and other family members during the swearing-in ceremony on in front of the Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2017. / AFP / Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
US President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in as President on January 20, 2017 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Attendees listen as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the 58th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States today, in a celebration of American unity for a country that is anything but unified. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Attendees stand during the 58th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States today, in a celebration of American unity for a country that is anything but unified. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump(L) wait with former President Barack Obama(2nd-R) and Michelle obama before their departure from the US Capitol after Trump's inauguration ceremonies at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2017. / AFP / Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
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In addition to a president that's "basically opposed" to abortion, Weddington said, "there are far fewer outspoken pro-choice Republicans today than there were back in the '60s and in the early '70s."

"There were a lot of Republicans for choice, a number of Republican members of the state legislatures and Congress who were pro-choice. [Republican] President Ford and Mrs. Ford were both pro-choice. You had a considerable number of Republicans who were pro-choice. I can't name those Republicans today," Weddington told NBC News.

With the dawn of the Trump-Pence administration and Republican control of both houses of Congress, Weddington fears for the future of the law and women's health.

"I think everyone who cares about the Roe v. Wade issue and other reproductive rights is very concerned about what will happen," Weddington said.

Related: U.S. Abortion Rate Now at Lowest Level It's Been Since Roe v. Wade

Trump, who has pledged to choose anti-abortion rights justices, is already guaranteed at least one Supreme Court appointment following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year. In an unprecedented move, Senate Republicans led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spent months refusing to grant a hearing for then-President Barack Obama's pick, Merrick Garland, leaving the spot open for the new president.

While one additional conservative vote would not be enough to overturn Roe altogether, legal experts say that any additional vacancies in the nation's highest court could start to put the decision in jeopardy.

"There's no immediate threat to Roe v. Wade, even with a single Trump appointment to the court, but in the long run, with the possibility of a second or third Trump appointment, there is a substantial threat to the core of Roe v. Wade," Mark Tushnet, a professor at Harvard Law School, told NBC News.

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Protesters march down Pennsylvania avenue during the Women's March on Washington January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. The march is expected to draw thousands from across the country to protest newly inaugurated President Donald Trump.

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Demonstrators hold signs while making their way towards Trump Tower during the Women's March in New York, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. Hundreds of demonstrations around the world are planned in conjunction with the Womens March on Washington, which is expected to be the largest inauguration-related demonstration in United States history. Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Protesters flood 14th Street during the Women's March on Washington January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. Large crowds are attending the anti-Trump rally a day after U.S. President Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th U.S. president.

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U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, center left, and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh hold a banner while marching down Commonwealth Avenue during the Boston Women's March in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. Hundreds of demonstrations around the world are planned in conjunction with the Women's March on Washington, which is expected to be the largest inauguration-related demonstration in United States history.

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Demonstrators attend the rally at the Women's March on Washington on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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Demonstrators gather during the Women's March of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. Hundreds of demonstrations around the world are planned in conjunction with the Women's March on Washington, which is expected to be the largest inauguration-related demonstration in United States history.

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Marchers fill Hill Street during the Women's March on January 21, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Downtown Los Angeles for the Women's March in protest after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Women's Marches are being held in cities around the world.

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Demonstrators hold signs during the Women's March of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. Hundreds of demonstrations around the world are planned in conjunction with the Women's March on Washington, which is expected to be the largest inauguration-related demonstration in United States history.

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Peaceful protesters demonstrate during the Women's March On Washington on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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Marianne Nepsund, 29, from New York, holds a sign as she participates in the Women's March on Washington, following the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Demonstrators taking part in the Women's March to protest Donald Trump's inauguration as the 45th president of the United States march around the U.S. Agriculture Department in Washington, January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Marchers during the Women's March on Main Street Park City on January 21, 2017 in Park City, Utah.

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Marchers during the Women's March on Main Street Park City on January 21, 2017 in Park City, Utah.

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Protesters cheer at the Women's March on January 21, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in protest after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

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Protesters participate in the Women's March on January 21, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in protest after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

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Hundreds of thousands of marchers fill the street during a Women's March demonstration in Washington, DC, U.S., January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Protesters participate in the Women's March on January 21, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in protest after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

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People listen to speeches at the Women's March, held in opposition to the agenda and rhetoric of President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, U.S., January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Canice Leung
People participate in a Women's March to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City, U.S. January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: A view of protesters marching in front of the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. on Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women's March on Washington on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: A view of protesters marching on Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women's March on Washington on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 21: Demonstrators attend the rally at the Women's March at Bayfront Park Amphitheater on January 21, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Sergi Alexander/Getty Images)
Demonstrators take part in the Women's March to protest Donald Trump's inauguration as the 45th president of the United States near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People pack the National Mall for the Women's March in Washington, U.S. January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People gather for the Women's March in Washington U.S., January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A sculpted eagle on the exterior of Grand Central Terminal overlooks people participating in a Women's March to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City, U.S. January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a Women's March to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City, U.S. January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participating in a Women's March to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump fill up 42nd St. in New York City, U.S. January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People watch as demonstrators march towards Trump Tower during the Women's March in New York, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. Hundreds of demonstrations around the world are planned in conjunction with the Womens March on Washington, which is expected to be the largest inauguration-related demonstration in United States history. Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
DENVER, CO JANUARY 21: Tens of thousands of people from across Colorado flooded Civic Center in downtown Denver for the 'Womens March on Denver the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. January 21, 2017 Denver, CO. (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - January 21: Thousands of protesters at Civic Center Park for the Women's March on Denver January 21, 2017. Over 100,000 people converged on downtown Denver in coordination with demonstrations across the country to send a message to the new Trump administration demanding social justice, human rights, and equality. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Demonstrators gather at Civic Center Park in Denver, Colorado, during the Women's March on January 21, 2017. Hundreds of thousands of people packed the streets across the US on Saturday in a massive outpouring of defiant opposition to America's new president, Donald Trump. / AFP / Jason Connolly (Photo credit should read JASON CONNOLLY/AFP/Getty Images)
A man protests during a Central Florida women's rally at Lake Eola Park in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
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Weddington and abortion rights activists have seen threats to Roe before — including the 1992 Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey.

While the case affirmed the basic findings in Roe, it gave states increased liberty to begin regulating abortion from the moment of conception, Carol Sanger, a law professor at Columbia University and author of "About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in the 21st Century," told NBC News.

"That just opened the door to all legislators who wanted to pour out legislation," Sanger said, citing state laws such as mandatory waiting periods, ultrasounds for women seeking abortion and laws regulating fetal remains.

But in June, the Supreme Court struck down one of the nation's toughest restrictions on abortion, a Texas law passed in 2013 that would have caused more than 75 percent of the state's clinics to shut down.

"I think the importance of that case is that the current majority on the court, including Justice Kennedy, is quite suspicious of these laws and unlikely to be receptive to them," Tushnet said.

While a complete reversal of the Roe decision is unlikely in the near future, Tushnet and Sanger said, states could become emboldened to enact additional restrictions on abortion rights in a more conservative political climate.

Related: Shuttered: The End of Abortion Access Across Red America

"Roe doesn't have to be overturned to take us back to the good old bad days," Sanger said.

Sanger said one alarming trend to watch is states banning abortions after 20 weeks.

Nineteen states ban abortions at about 20-weeks post-fertilization, according to the Guttmacher Institute, with laws in effect in 16 of those states.

"The 20-week ban is so pernicious and not just because it's violating Roe," Sanger said, adding that she believes these bans violate the decision because a fetus is not viable at 20 weeks.

Weddington said if abortion restrictions continue to increase, many women could face having to travel hundreds of miles and to different states to get an abortion.

"Women will have to go across state lines and that, of course, is what they did before Roe v. Wade," she said.

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A limousine burns after being smashed by anti-Trump protesters on K Street on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. While protests were mostly peaceful, some turned violent. President-elect Donald Trump was sworn-in as the 45th U.S. President today.

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Protesters block a street after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump on January 20, 2017, in Washington, DC.

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Protesters clash with police after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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A woman helps a protester after he was sprayed with pepper spray during protest near the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump in Washington, DC, U.S., January 20, 2017.

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Michael Moore speaks to protesters at McPherson Square Park following the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Today Trump became the 45th president of the United States.

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Protesters clash with police during the inauguration of US President Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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A man protests the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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A police officer tries to tackle a protester demonstrating against U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the inauguration in Washington, DC, U.S., January 20, 2017.

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An activist stands amid smoke from a stun grenade while protesting against U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the inauguration in Washington, D.C. January 20, 2017.

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Protesters chain themselves to each other and block an entry point prior at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in Washington, DC, U.S., January 20, 2017.

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Firefighters extinguish a car that was set on fire during protests near the inauguration of President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, U.S., January 20, 2017.

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Protesters demonstrating against U.S. President Donald Trump raise their hands as they are surrounded by police on the sidelines of the inauguration in Washington, DC, U.S., January 20, 2017.

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Protesters chain themselves to an entry point prior at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in Washington, DC, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Protesters clash with police while demonstrating against U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the inauguration in Washington, DC, U.S., January 20, 2017.

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A protestor dressed as Uncle Sam attends Donald Trump's Inauguration ceremony on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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Police run as they confront protesters during the inauguration of US President Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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Protesters are surrounded by police during a protest near the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump in Washington, DC, U.S., January 20, 2017.

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A protester is assisted by police after being injured during protests near the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump in Washington, DC, U.S., January 20, 2017.

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Protesters chain themselves to an entry point prior at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in Washington, DC, U.S., January 20, 2017.

(REUTERS/Bryan Woolston)

Demonstrators protest following the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Today Trump became the 45th president of the United States.

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An anti-Trump protester screams after being hit by a paintball gun fired by Police during clashes in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2107. Masked, black-clad protesters carrying anarchist flags smashed windows and scuffled with riot police Friday in downtown Washington, blocks away from the route of the parade in honor of newly sworn-in President Donald Trump. Washington police arrested more than 90 people over acts of vandalism committed on the fringe of peaceful citywide demonstrations being held against Trump's inauguration.

(JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Police and demonstrators clash in downtown Washington after a limo was set on fire following the inauguration of President Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Washington and the entire world have watched the transfer of the United States presidency from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, the 45th president.

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Police stop protesters from passing through following the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Today Trump became the 45th president of the United States.

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Demonstrators protest following the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Today Trump became the 45th president of the United States.

(Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)

A man looks through a smashed car window during a protest against the inauguration of US President Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.

(ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Demonstrators set fires as they confront police in protest against the inauguration of US President Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.

(ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Protesters attend Donald Trump's Inauguration ceremony on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)

A man holds a sign in front of riot police during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the inauguration in Washington, D.C. January 20, 2017.

(REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

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Twenty-two states currently have six or more abortion restrictions, prompting the Guttmacher Institute to characterize those states as "extremely hostile to abortion rights." Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, told NBC News that "things have changed pretty dramatically since the 2000s."

In 2000, only 13 states were considered "hostile" to abortion rights while no state met the qualification of "extremely hostile," according to the group.

Sanger noted that soon after the Supreme Court's decision in June, the Texas Department of State Health Services approved new rules to require health care facilities to bury or cremate fetal remains. A federal judge has since delayed implementation of the rule until January 27, according to the Texas Tribune.

Sanger said anti-abortion rights activists could also increase attempts to push restrictions through agencies, as opposed to legislatures.

"In Texas, it started before the election — so they aren't afraid," Sanger said.

"It will become more and more common," she added.

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