Lauren Rankin is a New York-based writer and reproductive rights activist. Opinions expressed here are her own.
Ohio lawmakers have passed one of the most severe abortion restrictions in the country, a so-called “Heartbeat bill” that bans abortions from taking place after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. This can be as early as six weeks into the pregnancy, a point at which many people don’t even know that they are pregnant. And there are no exceptions for rape or incest.
The bill now heads to the desk of Governor John Kasich, a former Republican presidential candidate who positioned himself as the moderate in a field of extremists. But Kasich is far from moderate on abortion, and it is very likely that he will sign this bill into law.
You may be surprised, but you shouldn’t be.
This is just the latest step in Ohio’s quiet progression towards a draconian landscape for abortion. In the past five years, it has been increasingly difficult to obtain a safe abortion in Ohio. While many of us have been focused on restrictive legislation sailing through traditionally red states like Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi, Ohio has been swiftly and stealthily restricting abortion to the point where it has become all but inaccessible for many.
This kind of legislation isn’t just a restriction on safe abortion; it’s essentially a ban. There is a tiny window of time to even find out you’re pregnant in order to have an abortion by the six-week mark, and you may need some time to make your decision after you find out that you’re pregnant. Add to that Ohio’s 24-hour mandatory waiting period and the evaporation of clinics in even urban areas, like the city of Dayton, and it takes even more time. If you’re a minor, you must obtain parental consent, which, if you’re estranged from your parents, could take even longer. At this point, you have almost certainly passed the six-week deadline. Not to mention that people with irregular periods or who experience implantation bleeding may have no idea they’re pregnant until far after the heartbeat has begun. You are forced to carry your pregnancy to term, regardless of your choice, circumstances, health, or situation, including rape.
Of course, Ohio isn’t the first state to pass a six-week abortion ban. That dubious title belongs to North Dakota, which enacted a six-week abortion ban in 2013. That bill was later struck down by a federal appeals court in 2015.
To be clear, that is likely the fate of Ohio’s bill. If this is signed into law, it will almost immediately be challenged, as it is unconstitutional to ban abortion before the point of fetal viability, which is typically considered to be 24-28 weeks. It would then wind its way through the federal court system and potentially land on the docket of the Supreme Court. According to abortion rights supporters, that is the point.
“Clearly this bill’s supporters are hoping that President-elect Trump will have the chance to pack the US Supreme Court with justices that are poised to overturn Roe vs. Wade,” NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio’s executive director Kellie Copeland said in a statement. “We must prevent that from happening to protect women’s lives.”
The Supreme Court still tilts in favor of Roe vs. Wade, even if President-elect Trump appoints a Justice to the vacant seat as soon as he takes office. Justice Kennedy recently sided with the Court’s liberal justices in June to overturn parts of Texas’ extreme anti-abortion law, and he has shown no sign of willingness to abandon legal abortion.
But while these abortion restrictions work their way through the courts, it is pregnant people in states like Ohio that suffer. In the window of time when this law is potentially enacted and ultimately challenged in court, real and lasting damage will be done. Many will discover they are pregnant after six weeks, and if this bill is signed into law, they will be forced to carry that pregnancy to term no matter what they would choose to do.
What does it mean that a swing state like Ohio is so brazenly attacking the right to safe and legal abortion? It means that this fight isn’t small — and it isn’t going away. The fight to defend safe and legal abortion isn’t limited to red states or rural areas. It isn’t something we can ignore because it doesn’t directly affect us. The fight for safe and legal abortion is officially national. As increasingly severe restrictions on abortion and other reproductive health services sprout up over the next few years, we must remember that it isn’t a battle for the south, for the midwest, for individual states; it is a battle for all of us.
We cannot divide ourselves into red states and blue states on abortion — because anti-choice lawmakers aren’t, either. If we really want to defeat Ohio’s six-week abortion ban, we will let it unite us in an effort to ensure that, while this may not be the first state to pass a ban like this, it will be the last.