A heartbeat away from defeating Roe?

January 17, 2019

Activists are getting organized in Ohio, where a “heartbeat bill” just came within a vote of becoming law, report Lacey Ross and Carrie Stratton.

ABORTION RIGHTS are at risk once again in Ohio. However, the most recent revision of House Bill 565, known popularly as the “Heartbeat Bill,” is by far the most dangerous iteration of this anti-choice bill ever presented in the state.

The subtitle of the Heartbeat Bill, “Regards abolition of abortion,” is itself the most concise summary of the current state of the bill. The bill calls for the complete and absolute illegality of abortion under all circumstances, including instances of rape and incest, as well as when the pregnancy endangers the pregnant person.

The Ohio Senate passed the Heartbeat Bill in early December with a vote of 18-13, and after Gov. John Kasich’s veto of the bill, supporters of the bill attempted to overturn his veto but failed by one vote.

This is surely not the last Ohioans will see of the Heartbeat Bill. In fact, this is not even the first time the Heartbeat Bill has threatened reproductive rights in Ohio.

In 2016, Kasich vetoed a similar bill that would ban abortions at the point a fetal heartbeat can be detected, sometimes as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Kasich, who has signed off on 20 other past abortion restrictions, explained that he vetoed the Heartbeat Bill because it’s unconstitutional due to protections in Roe v. Wade and would require extensive court costs to settle.

Pro-choice activists rally against the Heartbeat Bill outside the Ohio State Senate
Pro-choice activists rally against the Heartbeat Bill outside the Ohio State Senate (Becker1999 | flickr)

But Kasich’s term as governor has ended, and Republican Mike DeWine has replaced him. As the former Ohio attorney general, DeWine has openly supported the Heartbeat Bill and championed anti-choice measures his entire political career. Moreover, with Brett Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court, politicians may no longer prioritize the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade; therefore, we can expect the Heartbeat Bill to be reintroduced to the Ohio legislature.


EVEN WITHOUT the Heartbeat Bill, Ohio lacks adequate abortion access, notably in geographic terms. There were 17 abortion-providing facilities in the entire state of Ohio as of 2014, and these numbers represents a 35 percent decline since 2011 in abortion providers.

Also, as of 2014, 93 percent of Ohio counties had no clinics that provide abortions. NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said in April 2018, “Over the last seven years, 20 attacks on reproductive health care have been enacted, and half of the abortion clinics in Ohio have closed.”

Proximity to one of the few abortion providers isn’t the only obstacle to acquiring an abortion in Ohio. Someone seeking an abortion must receive counseling that is designed to discourage the abortion, and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided.

Counseling also must be provided in person and must take place before the waiting period begins, so two trips to the facility are required. Most people seeking an abortion must additionally undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion, since the provider must test for a fetal heartbeat.

Also, health plans offered under the Affordable Care Act only cover abortion if the pregnant person’s life is endangered, or in cases of rape or incest. Finally, the parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided.

Abortion in Ohio is already severely restricted, but upon passing, the Heartbeat Bill would make it illegal. According to the Heartbeat Bill, there is a distinction between “therapeutic” and “non-therapeutic” abortion, or when an abortion is performed due to a risk to the pregnant person’s health (including the person’s possible death if they continue the pregnancy to term), rape, or incest, or not, respectively. In the Heartbeat Bill, there is no difference. They are both unconditionally illegal.

The Heartbeat Bill would also explicitly block any and all funds from the state or any political subdivision to pay the costs, premiums or charges associated with abortion procedures. And, by using the terminology of “unborn human” to refer to fetuses, the Heartbeat Bill characterizes an “unborn human” as a person under Ohio’s criminal code regarding homicide.

This makes abortion equivalent to murder. This would subject both patients and doctors who participate in this safe and constitutionally-protected procedure to possible life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

Needless to say, the implementation of the Heartbeat Bill would be devastating for working-class Ohioans. As of 2014, 61 percent of abortion patients in Ohio were people of color, 75 percent were economically disadvantaged, and 59 percent already had one or more children.

With all abortion clinics in Ohio unable to provide services under the Heartbeat Bill, Ohioans would be faced with the inconvenience of traveling out of state for an abortion, as well as having to miss work and find childcare. And they have to do this twice - once for the counseling session and once for the actual procedure. Ohioans without health care would also be forced to pay for the entire process and procedure out of pocket.


OVER THE last month, supporters of abortion rights have actively opposed the Heartbeat Bill. On December 12, when the Ohio State Senate met to vote on the Heartbeat Bill, some 100 people turned out to demand “Our bodies, our lives, our right to decide.” The event sponsored by the International Socialist Organization, Democratic Socialists of America and Socialist Alternative drew out protesters ranging from longtime organizers to a class of eighth grade students to a march inside the Columbus Statehouse.

Even in the face of the vote approving the bill, people continued to organize. On December 27, the day the General Assembly met to potentially overturn the governor’s veto, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, WHO/O and Planned Parenthood organized a Stop the Bans day of action.

The protest started with an open mic in front of the Statehouse, and some 100 protesters lined the streets, chanting and sharing mass grievances. As protesters moved their way inside and lined the hallways, politicians had to tunnel through the crowd to get into the Assembly room.

Columbus activists will march again for abortion rights on January 19 at the Official Women’s March. Over 20 organizations and nonprofits have co-signed, and the event has garnered the interest of nearly 6,000 people on Facebook. The rally begins at 11 a.m. downtown with a list of speakers including youth, elected officials, grassroots organizers and community leaders.

At this event, we must connect the abortion struggle to other struggles, such as the right to general health care as well as the demand for reproductive choice in our lives. We must demand that all have choice over their bodies, which must also include the end to forced sterilization, denial of gender confirmation surgeries and lack of access to nutritional foods.

Movements can indeed secure our rights, as every liberty and victory we have won was organized through struggle. Roe v. Wade passed due to the strength of the women’s movements at the time. We must continue to mobilize on the streets, in workplaces, churches, community centers and schools. We must defend abortion outside of the clinics and protect those seeking the procedure.

The Heartbeat Bill will continue to surface in Ohio, alongside the reproductive attacks occurring continue across the country, but we will also continue to show up and defend our bodies, our lives and our right to decide.

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