Ohio’s Republicans Are Gambling on the Supreme Court to Restrict Abortion Access

Ohio’s extremely conservative legislature is on a tear: Within days of the election, the House pushed though an anti-abortion bill so onerous that it would effectively ban abortion.

And the state didn’t stop there. Legislators scheduled hearings on another bill that would criminalize abortion, potentially threatening patients and providers with the death penalty.

Here’s where things get extra bizarre: Ohio’s new legislature sits in January, but these aren’t your average lame duck bills being rammed through in the hopes of pushing a policy agenda before new lawmakers take office. The 2019 legislature will be working under a governor more conservative than outgoing leader John Kasich, who’s already vetoed an abortion bill similar to the one the house just passed.

So what the heck is Ohio doing with this stunt?

The first bill is what’s known as a “heartbeat bill,” barring abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable. The anti-choice movement is fond of leaning on the idea that a heartbeat makes the developing fetus morally equivalent to a living person.

Whether you believe that or not, because the heartbeat can be detectable as early as six weeks, this bill would effectively make abortion completely inaccessible. After all, six weeks gestation is just two weeks late on your period — so early that most people don’t even know they’re pregnant at that time. Missing a menstrual period by a few days shouldn’t be cause for panic and a frenetic dash to the doctor’s office for a pregnancy test sensitive enough to detect an early pregnancy.

If this bill passes the Senate as well, Governor Kasich seems likely to veto it — and the legislature will be forced to vote on an override. Any legislation that dies under Kasich dies with him, with lawmakers needing to reintroduce the bill if they want the incoming governor to sign it.

Of course, they could wait just a few weeks until they have a governor more favorable to their extremist agenda, but Republicans say they don’t care.

They’re bolstered by the fact that there are enough Republicans in the legislature to override a veto if they vote in a block, making it critical for Ohio voters to communicate with their legislators about this bill and make their opinions heard; it represents a significant threat to bodily integrity, privacy and the ability to practice medicine — three things reasonable conservatives should be worried about.

The second bill, which is just receiving a hearing, not a vote, is even worse, classifying fetuses as “unborn humans” and classifying abortion as a crime that could incur penalties like jail time or capital punishment. The broad language of the bill also could set pregnant people up for tragic and dangerous collisions with the law, as in the case of people who miscarry and are referred for prosecution. Miscarriage is unfortunately very common, and it happens through no fault of the pregnant person — but getting treatment for it is critical.

Bills like this have a chilling effect on patients who need medical treatment in the aftermath of miscarriages. This bill likely won’t make it to a floor vote, but the hearing is clearly designed to send a message that state lawmakers view fetuses as morally equivalent to human beings. And legislators want to push through personhood bills to make that view law, rather than a matter of personal opinion.

These extremist bills are terrible enough on their face, and they would be dreadful for pregnant people in Ohio, as well as the people who care for them. What’s really disturbing, though, is that these bills are clearly being advanced right now in an effort to set up for a challenge to Roe v. Wade.

That’s not just speculation: Ohio lawmakers are openly admitting this in a state where accessing abortion is already extremely difficult and lawmakers clearly want to make it impossible.

If such a challenge went before the present Supreme Court, there’s a very real risk that the conservative justices could uphold laws like the one in Ohio, destroying decades of work to affirmatively protect abortion access.

Take Action!

Banning abortion increases the probability that pregnant people will risk everything to terminate an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy. Ohio residents deserve better, and so do people across the US who could be harmed by the fallout of this legislation. If you agree, please add your name to this Care2 petition.