Reproductive rights: How gerrymandering impacts abortion access
Protesters at the Supreme Court in March 2020, when the justices were hearing arguments in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo. Robin Bravender/States Newsroom.
Those promoting drastically redrawing district lines in Ohio see the impact of those districts in all sorts of areas from voting access to education and even in the doctor’s office for some patients.
Reproductive rights have been a hotly contested issue that has been a touchpoint in national and local campaigns since the 1970s, when Roe v. Wade prevented abortion from being outlawed.
In Ohio, members of the legislature see it as such an important issue that they joined in on briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court for a Mississippi case that could become the challenge to Roe v. Wade and change abortion rights as we know it. The legislators from Ohio who joined the brief were all Republican, and all opposed to Roe v. Wade, seeking to overturn the Supreme Court decision.
“The state legislators contend that the ruling in this case will have far-reaching consequences for legislatures across the country,” the legislators’ brief stated. “In particular, it will affect the state legislators’ ability to propose, enact and defend future abortion legislation.”
One piece of legislation sitting in the Ohio Statehouse awaiting review as the legislature comes back from summer break is a “trigger” bill, which would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Anti-abortion lobby group Ohio Right to Life has credited voters for creating a Statehouse that is supportive of anti-abortion legislation, and trusts that will continue in the new redistricting process.
“Ohio Right to Life will continue to advocate for the voice of pro-life Ohioans as the redistricting process moves forward,” said Allie Frazier, Director of Communications at Ohio Right to Life. “Ohio’s culture of life knows no bounds, with Ohio voters flipping districts drawn out for pro-choice candidates and electing veto-proof majorities in the Statehouse.”
Legislation similar to the trigger ban has come up several times, with current proposed measures targeting “botched abortions” and an unproven “abortion reversal” method.
Abortion rights advocates say it’s not because of an overwhelming amount of support for criminalizing abortion by Ohioans. The state is split on the issue, according to a Pew Research poll, but a majority of Ohioans (48%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
But because of gerrymandered districts, that opinion isn’t represented within the halls of the Statehouse, where laws that apply to the entire state are made.
“What ends up happening (when districts are gerrymandered) is not only do you get more Republicans in the legislature, you get more conservatives in the legislature,” said Jaime Miracle, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
Miracle said the legislature has seen some support of reproductive rights over the years, but with Republican control of the redistricting process (through a system that has since changed), districts have become deeper and deeper entrenched in party lines, which also means deeper ideological lines as well.
“It’s been this race to outdo each other, and in some ways that’s stalled some progress because there’s been a lot of infighting,” Miracle said.
That ideological race has led to anti-abortion legislation, and the closure of facilities that provide both abortion care and low-cost health services across the state. According to the Ohio Policy Evaluation Network and the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, the state had 16 abortion clinics in 2010, and as of this year, only nine exist. Six provide surgical abortions and three provide only medication abortion services.
Gerrymandering has affected the representative layout on the federal level as well. Before the redistricting of 1992, Ohio held 21 seats in Congress, made up of 10 Republicans and 11 Democrats. By the time the 2012 redistricting happened, Ohio’s congressional makeup had 12 members of the GOP and four on the democratic side. None of the seats changed parties between 2003 to 2013.
With a layout leaning more conservatively, it’s easier for anti-abortion legislation to make it through the lawmaking process.
“If we get districts that are actually accountable to the voters…we can do good things, we can pass legislation that actually helps the people of the state,” Miracle said.
Abortion is legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks gestation.
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