In Ohio on Tuesday, the state legislature passed a bill that would ban abortions as soon as a foetus’s heartbeat is detectable. Given that this state of foetal growth tends to happen around the 6th week of pregnancy, this would be the harshest abortion law in the United States. Doctors who fail to listen for a heartbeat, or who abort when a heartbeat is audible, would face up to a year in jail.
On Thursday, the same state passed a second law banning abortion after 20 weeks, which is reflected in 18 other states’ laws. This seems redundant, really, considering that only 145 abortions were performed after 20 weeks in Ohio last year, but the goal is to threaten reproductive rights and freedoms more than it is about logic or truly pro-life goals. Only two clinics in the state perform terminations after 20 weeks, and those are almost entirely procedures that take place due to severe disability or trauma. People just do not have abortions at the later stages of pregnancy unless they are absolutely essential.
Gabriel Mann, of Ohio’s NARAL Pro-Choice, said, of the small number of post-20-week terminations that take place, many are not unwanted.
“We know that many, many of these cases are women who wanted to have a healthy pregnancy. They wanted to have a child and at this point got a medical diagnosis that the pregnancy is failing or complications were putting her health at risk.”
Now awaiting Governor John Kasich’s signature, the law with the six-week limit could even risk overturning the famous Roe versus Wade case, which cemented into US law an individual’s right to access to abortion until the foetus could viably live outside the womb, at roughly between 24 and 28 weeks gestation. Kasich is a Republican governor who has passed several rulings on abortion restrictions since he came to power. He has the option to approve the new bill, veto it, or ignore it.
Similar laws have been attempted in the past but have been overturned as unconstitutional, such as in Arkansas and North Dakota in 2013.
Perhaps unexpectedly, a number of anti-choice groups are not in favour of the Heartbeat Bill. This is because they expect it could be overturned so easily on constitutional grounds that it is a distraction from the overall fight to end terminations across the country. Some are more in support of 20-week limitation bills, which sneak the Roe vs Wade age limits down in a way that may face less outraged opposition.
Dawn Laguens, from Planned Parenthood, told ABC News, “After years of passing anti-abortion laws under the guise of protecting women’s health and safety, they lay bare their true motives: to ban abortion in the state of Ohio. Politicians have no right to dictate Ohio women’s personal medical decisions. Make no mistake –– these bills punish women.”
The ACLU in Ohio have promised to sue if the six-week bill comes into law without being vetoed by Kasich.
— ACLU of Ohio (@acluohio) December 7, 2016
No exemptions for rape or abuse
Even where strict abortion laws are in place, there are often exemptions in the case of pregnancy that has occurred as a result of rape, incest or sexual abuse. The Ohio law does not include this as an exemption, which is beyond heartless, and reflects the lack of care that Ohio lawmakers really have concerning their citizens.
When somebody needs access to an abortion, whatever their reason, they deserve respectful and appropriate healthcare. When healthcare providers are restricted by law or protesters, this limits their ability to provide the care and support a person needs when they are undergoing a termination.
When the procedure is being carried out as a result of rape, incest or abuse, the care that is provided has to be especially sensitive. However, these new laws are the opposite of this; they are brutal and hard-hearted and deny somebody the healthcare they need at what could be the worst time in their life.
Many people will not know they are pregnant
With a foetus at six weeks gestation, many people do not even know they are pregnant. While those trying for a baby are likely to have tested their blood or urine prior to this point, those who are using contraception or who are perhaps recovering from aspects of assault or rape may simply not do a test after a single missed period.
Even if somebody does do a test at 5 or 6 weeks, their pregnancy hormones may not be strong enough to show up as positive. And even if they do, that gives people virtually no time to make the massive decision about the future of their pregnancy.
If you find out you are 5 and a half weeks pregnant and the abortion limit is in three days’ time, the chances of you finding a suitable clinic, travelling there, having relevant tests and making a decision within that time are incredibly low. Services will be pushed to the limit and people will not have the time to give the choice about their pregnancy sufficient time and attention.
If anything, this law could push people into terminating just so they don’t miss the deadline when, ultimately, that may not have been the decision they made had they had more time.
Forcing somebody to carry a pregnancy to term when they do not want to is an incredibly powerful form of abuse. Predominantly affecting women, but also other marginalised groups such as trans men and some people with non-binary gender, there is no doubt that restrictive abortion laws like this are designed to oppress and control those with the least power in society.
Even pregnancies that are wanted, planned for and desired can be incredibly taxing to go through, not to mention — frankly — the potential horrors of the birth process. If it is potentially so traumatic for somebody who desperately wants the baby they are carrying, the thought of going through it against the pregnant person’s will is unthinkable.
Whether or not Kasich approves Ohio’s six-week limit bill, the fact that it has been passed by the state legislature and had the possibility of becoming law is a threat to everybody’s reproductive freedoms. Being forced to endure an unwanted pregnancy is a unique form of torture, and failing to account for rape victims within any of the legal proceedings so far is especially cruel.
This is a law that will be fought, should Kasich pass it, and that may well ultimately fail. But the more states and countries attempt to limit access to reproductive healthcare, the more threatened we should all feel.
Photo: Kate Ausburn/Creative Commons