Another abortion sneak attack

Tim Joseph and Katrina Bacome report from Ohio on a massive assault on women's abortion rights by Republicans--and the efforts of activists to resist the attack.

Ohio Gov. John KasichOhio Gov. John Kasich

AS THOUSANDS of courageous and militant Texans captivated supporters of reproductive justice with their struggle against anti-choice legislation, Republicans in the Ohio state legislature quietly passed some of the most draconian restrictions on abortion anywhere in the country--all through amendments to the state's $62 billion budget bill.

The regulations require patients seeking an abortion to both undergo and pay for the costs of invasive ultrasounds. Doctors are required to inform patients of the existence of a fetal heartbeat and the likelihood of the fetus surviving if carried to term. As conservatives readily admit, the only purpose of this medically unnecessary--and costly--procedure is to coerce the woman into carrying a pregnancy to term, regardless of health or other consequences of such a decision.

In addition to mandatory ultrasounds, the regulations institute a "gag-rule" on rape crisis centers, preventing them from providing information about abortion to rape survivors. Rape crisis centers offer essential services in counseling and medical referrals to survivors of sexual violence. As a result of this new rule, centers that provide necessary information about abortion in cases of pregnancy will lose public funding.

The law also bans transfer agreements between medical clinics that perform abortions and public hospitals. These agreements provide for the transfer of patients from clinics to hospitals in cases of medical emergency and are required by Ohio law. Since many areas do not have private hospitals, this threatens clinics throughout the state--and at least three are facing imminent closure.

These restrictions don't merely limit the accessibility of safe abortions. They challenge the access of poor and working-class women to any sort of family planning at all. In an unprecedented assault on both reproductive justice and sound medical science, the bill redefines "pregnancy" and "fetus" to extend legal protections to a fertilized egg before implantation in the uterine lining. As a result, many forms of birth control--such as intrauterine devices (IUDs)--are now legally considered to be causing abortions.

Finally, the bill almost entirely defunds Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that specializes primarily in providing contraception and cancer screenings to low-income and minority women. Worse still, it redirects funding to "crisis pregnancy centers"--run by conservative religious organizations that provide medically inaccurate information to pregnant women who are considering abortion.

Although many groups pleaded with him to strike these restrictions with his line-item veto power, notoriously conservative Gov. John Kasich quickly signed the bill into law and left without comment, reflecting the manner in which these policies were forced onto the people of Ohio.

While the Ohio Republican Party won a major victory in its war against reproductive justice with the budget bill, even more anti-choice legislation is currently proceeding through the legislature. If passed, House Bill (HB) 200 would extend the mandatory waiting period for abortions from 24 hours to 48 hours and eliminate exceptions for medical emergencies.

The bill would also place several new restrictions on the ability of doctors to care for their patients. It would force doctors to tell patients of supposed links between abortion and breast cancer, a claim that medical studies have shown to be false, and it would also require doctors to inform patients of how much money they make from each abortion they perform. Any non-compliant doctor would face a felony charge and a fine of up to $1 million.

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DESPITE THE setbacks inflicted by the right, outraged Ohioans, many of whom have been inspired by the struggle in Texas, are beginning to organize to stop HB 200 and regain lost ground. This struggle has brought together activists from diverse points of view--including self-identifying moderates, liberals and radicals.

Together, we have formed the Ohio Reproductive Justice Task Force (ORJTF) to develop and coordinate grassroots agitation and direct action on a statewide basis. In doing so, we have dedicated ourselves to constructing a democratic, grassroots and inclusive social movement that will fight for reproductive justice for all cisgender women, transgender men and women, and those who are gender non-conforming within the state, and in solidarity with activists across the country and around the world.

The initial call to organize a statewide fight back included many activists who felt that the framing of the issue as the 'choice' to have an abortion was not inclusive of poor, trans, queer and gender non-conforming people. For many, there are no real choices, because there is a lack of access. Practicality is just as much a factor as legality is for those seeking abortions and other reproductive healthcare.

We also want to focus on reproductive justice for communities of color, and legal protections for parents and prospective parents who are trans, disabled, or undocumented. We support the right of all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to have children, to adopt as they see fit, and to maintain parental rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

ORJTF is firmly in opposition to the coercive sterilization of people with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities, and the continuing efforts around the world to entice poor women, people of color, and LGBTQ people to be sterilized through financial incentives.

We believe families of undocumented immigrants have the right to maintain their households, and should have the security of knowing their parents or caretakers will not be deported. People with disabilities should have the right to make their own decisions about their families, and access to the social support that may be necessary to do so.

The heart of reproductive justice is the right to terminate a pregnancy, to give a child up for adoption, or to raise your family without stigma, in a safe and healthy environment. Within this struggle there are many battles to fight, and it is fundamental that we have unity across lines of social difference and demand the rights of all people to control their bodies and their reproduction.

The ability to communicate, to share our individual perspectives and needs, and to coordinate campaigns in rural areas as well as cities, has never been more crucial.