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Abortion Access: Ohio's 6-Week Ban Could Be Just the Start


Tuesday, July 19, 2022   

By Trista Bowser / Broadcast version by Mary Schuermann reporting for the Kent State-Ohio News Connection Collaboration.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, an Ohio law that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy was allowed to take effect.

A federal judge dissolved an injunction of the state's "heartbeat" bill, on hold since 2019, after Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) filed a motion for emergency relief on June 24, the day of the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson. The law bans abortions after the detection of fetal cardiac activity, typically around six weeks of pregnancy and before many women know they're pregnant.

The "heartbeat" bill was created to outlaw abortions as soon as a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity during a pregnancy. With the bill in effect, the only way an abortion after that date is allowed is if the mother is having complications to her health. The doctor has to show proof that the pregnancy is at risk of harming the mother.

If an illegal abortion is performed, the law makes the doctor criminally liable.

A majority of women don't realize that they are pregnant until their first missed period, by which time they are already around four weeks pregnant. People with irregular periods may not know until days to weeks later. With the heartbeat bill now in effect, most women will have two weeks or less in which they can get an abortion in Ohio.

Women seeking an abortion after that time will now have to travel outside state lines to a location where the procedure is legal.

State legislatures in Kentucky and West Virginia have outlawed abortion, though Kentucky's ban is currently blocked by the courts. Abortion is still legal in Michigan up to 19.6 weeks into pregnancy, in Indiana up to 22 weeks and in Pennsylvania up to 24 weeks.

Prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson, Jessie Hill, associate dean for research and faculty development at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, explained that it will be difficult for Ohio women seeking abortions to go out of state.

"The problem with Ohio is that Ohio borders a lot of states where there's not great access either, like Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, places like that," she said.

Legislators in the Ohio statehouse were working to limit abortion access in the year leading up to the Dobbs decision.

In December 2021, Gov. DeWine signed Senate Bill 157, which banned Ohio physicians who work for the state in some capacity from undertaking contracts with abortion clinics. The law was blocked in March, but could be allowed to take effect with Roe v. Wade overturned.

Prior to the ruling, Ohio legislators were also working on HB 598, which would almost completely ban abortion. To qualify for an exception due to complications to the mother's health, doctors would be required to complete intensive paperwork to prove to the Ohio legislators that it was absolutely necessary. The bill contains no exemptions for pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.

Hill said many women are concerned about what they would do if they became pregnant due to sexual assault. "Being forced to carry it and not wanting a pregnancy to term is just sort of a retraumatization for some people," stated Hill.

Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery), a co-sponsor of HB 598, said via email that he hopes the Ohio Legislature will call a special session "to align Ohio's laws to reflect the right that every child deserves."

"This is a bright day for the future of the unborn and we should not delay in delivering the American dream to our most vulnerable population one moment longer than necessary," he wrote.

State legislators may continue to pursue further restrictions on abortion in the coming months. On July 11, for instance, Click introduced a bill that would recognize constitutional rights beginning at conception, likely outlawing abortion in Ohio entirely.

As of this writing, there are nine clinics in Ohio still offering abortions up to six weeks, according to Pro-Choice Ohio. Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio is still offering abortion services.

"We will keep fighting for legal abortion in Ohio," states a large graphic at the top of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio's website. "We will do everything in our power to ensure every person's right to bodily autonomy is upheld. Our health centers have and will remain trusted health care partners for patients across Ohio."

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

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