Editorial: Ohio bills threaten reproductive freedom


Flickr/Jim Bowen

Ohio’s capitol building in Columbus houses the state’s Congress and is where legislation such as House Bill 565 are proposed.

The latest fight over reproductive rights is seemingly developing only one state away — in Ohio.

A series of recently proposed bills in the Ohio legislature has the potential to end abortion access for women in the state and challenge the decades-old landmark Supreme Court case that legalized the procedure. The Ohio bills criminalize choice in a way that is pulling the pro-choice stance of the national conversation about abortion closer to a pro-not-getting-arrested-for-exercising-autonomy stance.

The Ohio House passed an abortion bill in mid-November that would punish doctors for performing abortions when they can detect a fetal heartbeat, which can be as early as six weeks into the pregnancy, —  a time when most women don’t even know they’re pregnant. If the bill passes the Senate, it would be one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. There are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

It’s both unreasonable and inhumane to only allow women the opportunity to end a potential pregnancy in the first six weeks, especially because very few women know they’re pregnant before that point. But now the Ohio House is taking this ban one step further by considering a bill that would ban abortion entirely, not just after a month and a half.

House Bill 565 would classify fetuses as “unborn humans,” making abortion illegal at any point during a pregnancy and allowing no exceptions for rape, incest or danger to the woman’s life. The procedure is not only illegal but opens both women seeking abortions and doctors performing them up to criminal charges. This could mean life in prison or the death penalty, due to the new classification of fetuses as “humans.”

The bill would force women to carry sometimes unwanted pregnancies to term and seek unsafe abortions, which according to the United Nations Human Rights Council, is the third leading cause of maternal death globally. But on top of this cruelty, House Bill 565 would treat women attempting to exercise control over their own bodies as a criminal offense.

What’s most concerning about both Ohio bills is that they’re outrageous pieces of legislation that could never be upheld in court — and that’s the point. They’re both unconstitutional according to the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion up to the point of fetal viability. Today that point is considered to be at the 24th week of pregnancy.

These bills and many others like them in state legislatures across the country are likely purposefully written with the intent of challenging Roe v. Wade. And they act to pave the way for other, less extreme bills that are still highly restrictive of women’s right to an abortion.

Two years ago in Ohio, Gov. John Kasich vetoed a bill that would ban abortion at the point when a fetal heartbeat could be detected. But immediately after he vetoed that bill, he signed one to ban abortion at 20 weeks. Ohio became the 18th state to ban abortion at 20 weeks, and the large number of states that have passed this kind of law shows that there is momentum to pass a similar law at the federal level. Compared to the more extreme bill Kasich rejected, the still-restrictive compromise seems a bit more palatable — but is still a restriction of women’s autonomy.

The same situation appears to be repeating itself in Ohio with the latest bills presented to the House. A war on women is happening through extreme legislation — we can’t allow radical proposals to desensitize ourselves to that fact.

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