Q&A: 2019 Full Of Legislative Victories For Opponents Of Abortion Rights

The Ohio Statehouse
The Ohio Statehouse [M / Wikimedia Commons]
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Ohio abortion rights opponents say 2019 was a great year for people who want to see abortion eliminated or restricted in Ohio.

Abortions, however, are already declining in the state. According to the state health department’s annual report, in the last decade the number of abortions have decreased by 30 percent.

Morning Edition host Amy Eddings spoke with ideastream health reporter Marlene Harris-Taylor about what’s expected in 2020 on this issue.

Ohio Right to Life, an anti-abortion rights group, called the so-called “Heartbeat Bill” the most significant legislative victory this year.

Yes, they say they were emboldened by its passage. The “Heartbeat Bill,” or the six-week ban as some call it, was signed into law by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in April. It would prohibit abortions after a heartbeat can be detected, which is about six weeks into the pregnancy, often before women know they are pregnant.

But the law didn’t take effect. It was blocked by the appellate court.

That’s correct, but Stephanie Rande Krider, spokesperson for Ohio Right to Life, says they expected the courts to block the law and they actually relish a court fight over it.

“It's really part of our overall strategy of overturning Roe v. Wade,” Krider said.

“We need to get something that has a chance of challenging the core holdings of Roe to make it in front of the Supreme Court. And we think the Heartbeat Bill is the best vehicle for that,” she said.

Jesse Hill, attorney for the ACLU of Ohio, is involved with fighting many of these court cases. Several other states have passed similar laws, but it will take a while before one of them to gets to the Supreme Court, Hill said.

 “There is an abortion case already in the U.S. Supreme Court, but it’s not the full frontal challenge on Roe v. Wade that the heartbeat bills create,” said Hill.

 “But it's probably only a matter of time. I think maybe late 2020 or 2021,” she said.

Were there other developments this year that abortion rights opponents are happy about?

Earlier in the year, the courts upheld a law that stripped funding from Planned Parenthood in Ohio because the organization performs abortions; Planned Parenthood would note they provide other health services for women.

Krider from Ohio Right to Life says they are also pleased that some clinics that perform abortions around the state either closed or were forced by state regulations to stop doing the surgery and only provide the pills. These pills, which women can acquire from a clinic, can be used up to about the 10th week of pregnancy.

Abortion proposals from the Republican-controlled House and Senate in Ohio went from “extreme to extremer,” said Hill, who is also an Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development in the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

How many clinics are there in Ohio, and here in Northeast Ohio, that perform abortions?

There are still eight clinics in Ohio, with three in the Cleveland area. In Toledo, for example, there are none still open which provide surgical abortions.

There were two abortion proposals introduced in 2019 that physicians say are medically impossible.

One bill introduced in the Ohio House in November would outlaw abortion in almost all circumstances.  

It garnered national and international attention because if an embryo implants on the mother’s fallopian tube rather than her uterus rendering the pregnancy unviable, this bill would require doctors to replant an ectopic pregnancy into a woman’s uterus.

Doctors say this procedure does not exist in medical science.

The bill creates two felonies, abortion murder and aggravated abortion murder, and the expectant mother and/or the physician could be charged.

Krider says the Ohio Right to Life organization did not support this proposal. She called it too extreme because the bill calls for penalties for pregnant women.

Hill, from the Ohio ACLU, says the proposal is “way out there.” She said sometimes bills are introduced by lawmakers to get attention and that this one likely will not advance.

Another Ohio bill introduced in November in the Senate, also has some doctors objecting because it would require doctors to tell patients about the possibility of reversing an abortion induced by pills.

Many doctors say there is no medical evidence to back up the claim that reversing abortions is a possibility.

Were there any victories for abortion rights advocates in 2019?

There was a protracted fight over getting a license for Women’s Med Center, a clinic that performs abortions in Dayton. It is the only one there and will be open for the near future.

Hill says they were also able to block the implementation of some other abortion laws that passed this year in the courts.

“There was a law banning abortion for reasons of Down Syndrome — that’s been blocked. There was a ban on the most common second-trimester form of abortion — that’s been blocked,” she said.

Overall, though, Hill is very worried about what may happen to the right to have an abortion in the U.S. She called this a very precarious time for Roe v. Wade.

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