Legislation introduced in the Ohio Statehouse will tighten the regulations on abortion in an attempt to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision Roe v. Wade (1973) that the outright banning of abortion is unconstitutional. If passed, these laws would make Ohio second only to Texas in abortion regulation.
Anti-abortion leaders are following an incremental strategy designed to push the boundaries of the Supreme Court guidelines. Their objective is to restrict a woman’s reproductive freedom and to obstruct clinics, ultimately closing them.
Ohio Abortion Law
In 2013, a budget bill was passed and approved with some of the strictest anti-abortion regulations in the country. Many of the new rules did not flagrantly violate the Supreme Court guidelines but did make it more difficult for clinics to operate in Ohio, which forced some to close. Under these restrictions clinics have to apply for “transfer agreements” with private hospitals as public hospitals are no longer allowed to enter into transfer agreements with abortion providers. Many private hospitals in the state of Ohio are faith-based institutions and are not willing to enter into a transfer agreement with an abortion clinic, putting many in danger of closing. This is essentially a back-door abortion ban because no providers and clinics mean no access.
What it takes to get an abortion in Ohio:
- Women “must receive state-directed counseling” to attempt to discourage her from getting the abortion; then there is a mandatory 24-hour waiting period. Counseling must take place at the clinic and in person.
- Health plans offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act and to public employees can only cover abortion in cases when “the woman's life is endangered, rape, or incest.”
- Medication abortion must be provided using the FDA protocol. This prevents the use of a more common, simpler regimen that requires fewer visits.
- “The parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided.” If a parent does not consent, the minor can go to court.
- Only in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest can public funds be used for abortion.
- Since the provider must test for a fetal heartbeat, most women will undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion. The woman will be offered the option to view the image. She also will be given the statistical probability of carrying the pregnancy to term.1
New and Proposed Regulations
Lawmakers are trying to restrict Ohio women’s reproductive freedom even further. This year the Ohio House passed legislation (House Bill 69) in March that would ban abortion as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. Recently, federal courts have struck down similar laws in North Dakota and Arkansas that banned abortions as early as six weeks. The courts have been repeatedly clear that these types of laws are flatly unconstitutional.
In June, the Ohio Senate passed a 20-week ban on abortions (Senate Bill 127), which challenges the fetal viability limit set in Roe and is opposed by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The ban also limits the scope of medical emergencies that allow for an abortion and does not include exceptions for rape and incest.
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Also in June, lawmakers made abortion restrictions even tighter by including two abortion provisions in Ohio’s biennium budget bill. One only allows transfer agreements between abortion clinics and hospitals that are within 30 miles of each other, threatening the only remaining abortion clinic in Toledo. The other allows the state to close clinics by failing to respond to a clinic’s request for a variance (an exception). In short, the state can just neglect to hear a request from an abortion clinic to deviate from requirements like the transfer agreement. This could result in the closing of such clinics without a hearing or explanation after 60 days, violating due process.
Tightening restrictions on abortions is making Ohio an increasingly difficult place to access an abortion, and many fear that by allowing this and similar legislation to pass that women’s right to choose will no longer be protected by the state.
Sara Hoose was a summer intern with the ACLU of Ohio.