A medical exam room. File photo from MaxPixels.net.
The battle on abortion in Ohio will only be stopped by the U.S. Supreme Court or a change in the U.S. Constitution, according to reproductive law experts and those once again pushing for abortion bans.
Two state legislators have introduced a bill making abortion procedures a felony, which marks the second time in as many years that a bill was introduced hoping for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the national Supreme Court decision that said abortion was legal nationwide.
A physician accused of “causing or inducing an abortion” would face an official charge of “criminal abortion,” which would be a fourth-degree felony under the new Senate Bill, introduced recently in the Ohio Senate.
If signed into law, the bill would not take into effect until either the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 1973 decision in Roe. V. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide, or an amendment to the U.S. Constitution “upholds Ohio’s authority under the federal system to prohibit abortion,” according to a statement from bill cosponsor state Sen. Kristina Roegner’s office.
“I believe that when the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge to Roe, they will realize that the original decision from 1973 was seriously flawed, and return the authority regarding abortion to the states,” Roegner said in the statement.
Nearly a year ago to the day, former state Rep. John Becker introduced similar legislation, which would have barred state funds from being disbursed for abortion-related services and created a first-degree felony charge of “abortion manslaughter.”
Becker’s bill never received a hearing, and therefore never moved in the 133rd General Assembly. Currently, abortions are legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks gestation.
Both bills have an exception in the event that “the abortion was necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman,” according to language in the current bill.
Ohio is one of a few states trying to pass anti-abortion laws and create a review of Roe v. Wade.
The abortion fight in the state has been going on since Roe v. Wade was decided, but a law professor who also works on abortion challenges says the last few years have been more active than most.
“I think there’s almost nothing that’s beyond the pale right now,” said Professor Jessie Hill of Case Western Reserve University.
Hill is also cooperating attorney for the ACLU, which has five lawsuits against state abortion measures going on simultaneously, including one filed this week challenging a law on burial and cremation after surgical abortions. Since Hill returned to Ohio in 2001, she’s only seen efforts to regulate abortion ramp up year after year.
“All of a sudden these bills started passing, and in the last few years they’ve been more and more extreme,” Hill said, adding that gerrymandering creating a Republican-leaning legislature contributed to the increase in anti-abortion legislation.
Anti-abortion groups are lining up to support the bill, with lobby group Ohio Right to Life calling the legislation “powerful and life-affirming.”
“For the first time since abortion was legalized, we have a pro-life majority on the (U.S.) Supreme Court,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. “Roe v. Wade hangs by a thread. Ohio must be prepared for what comes next.”
Planned Parenthood’s Ohio chapter said the newest bill restricts access to care rather than making lives better.
“S.B. 123 is the latest egregious attack on abortion access from leaders in the Ohio General Assembly who are only focused on eliminating legal access to abortion, to the neglect of everything else – including the pandemic.”
Hill sees a constitutional amendment as a long shot, with a requirement of support from 75% of states in order to make that happen.
Targeting a U.S. Supreme Court decision is a bigger possibility, and even if the high court decides not to overturn the decision as a whole, Hill says cutting back the protections included in Roe v. Wade is something not often considered as the debate continues.
“I think it’s an under-appreciated possibility that the court is not really interested in overturning Roe v. Wade, but that they would reduce it to almost nothing,” Hill said.
The new Ohio bill will now be assigned to a House committee for hearings and consideration.
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