On April 10, 2019, the Ohio Legislature easily passed SB 23, a bill banning abortion upon detection of a fetal heartbeat, as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.
It was a decision that should have carried considerable political risk in Ohio, a state narrowly divided between Democrats and Republicans. There was no broad support for the bill – polls showed public opinion was nearly evenly split on the bill (a poll after the bill passed showed a majority opposed it), John Kasich, a former Republican governor, had twice vetoed the bill, saying it was unconstitutional, and he had stalled in the legislature for years.
But Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, nevertheless signed the bill the next day. And the following fall, when the politicians who passed the measure were reelected, Republicans lost no seats in the state legislature. In fact, they have enlarged their majority.
Ohio offers a case study of how U.S. politicians pass extreme abortion measures that don’t align with voters’ views but face little accountability at the polls — an issue even more at play this month As the Supreme Court is set to hand down a ruling that will likely overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion. In Ohio and elsewhere, politicians are protected by their ability to draw their own political constituencies every 10 years, twisting them in ways that virtually guarantee re-election. Republicans drew the lines in Ohio in 2011 and have held a supermajority in the state legislature ever since. “We can kind of do whatever we want,” Matt Huffman, the top Republican in the Ohio Senate, told the Columbus Dispatch recently.
In a leaked draft opinion knocking Roe down, Judge Samuel Alito wrote that abortion disputes should be resolved through the political process. “The legality of abortion and its limits must be resolved as the most important questions of our democracy: by citizens trying to persuade each other and then voting,” Alito wrote, quoting the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
But as it urges the return of abortion to the political sphere, the Supreme Court has sanctioned a manipulation of the political process that makes it nearly impossible for Ohioans and voters in other states to have their voices heard. voice on abortion. In 2019, Alito and four of the court’s conservative justices said there was nothing federal courts could do to control partisan gerrymandering, giving lawmakers in Ohio and elsewhere more freedom to gerrymander their districts.
This kind of gerrymandering will likely serve as an invisible and virtually impenetrable fortress that will allow lawmakers across the United States to continue pushing extreme abortion measures that are not supported by the public. Although public attitudes towards abortion can be complex, the vast majority do not support the overturning of Roe v Wade, and a majority support legalized abortion in one form or another. State legislators that have imposed measures criminalizing abortion and banning it altogether have ignored these attitudes.
“These are different strands of the same braid. We don’t have these restrictions without gerrymandering,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio, a group that works to protect abortion access in the state.
When Ohio was considering a six-week abortion ban, Copeland said, her organization held a “parade of witnesses” — medical professionals, women who had abortions, religious leaders — to give moving testimony to the legislature. Many lawmakers did not stick around to listen. ” They do not care. And they don’t care because they know they’re untouchable because of gerrymandering,” she said.
This is a problem that exists beyond Ohio. The vast majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances, but state lawmakers continue to offer a series of increasingly extreme restrictions on abortion. Republicans control far more state legislative chambers than Democrats, and only about 17.5% of state legislative districts are expected to be competitive over the next decade. Very few chambers are expected to reverse partisan control. In Ohio, Republicans once again offered a distorted legislative map of the state to their advantage and openly defied state Supreme Court orders to come up with a fairer map.
Extreme restrictions with extreme consequences
In 2010, Kasich ousted an incumbent Democrat and Republicans flipped control of the Ohio House as part of a nationwide Republican effort to win state legislative chambers to control the redistricting process. . Armed with full redistricting power, Ohio Republicans have won new districts that have won them a supermajority in the state legislature over the past decade, even as Barack Obama carried state in 2008 and 2012.
A wave of new restrictions on abortion restrictions began to flow. In 2012, the state enacted a new law prohibiting abortions after a fetus was viable, except in medical emergencies, and requiring viability testing at 20 weeks (three to four weeks before the accepted medical definition of viability). The following year, Ohio lawmakers included a number of restrictions in a budget bill, including an extremely sweeping measure that prevented abortion clinics from entering into required patient transfer agreements with taxpayer-funded hospitals. The state then banned some public funds from going to Planned Parenthood, outright banned abortion at 20 weeks after fertilization, and in 2019 passed the six-week abortion ban.
“Throughout the 80s, 90s, early 2000s, there were occasional laws that tinkered with the informed consent requirement for an abortion or tinkered around the edges with minors’ access to abortion and things like that,” said law professor Jessie Hill. at Case Western University. “We really started to see a slight increase in abortion restrictions after 2010 or 2011, the last time redistricting went into effect in Ohio. It’s been just kind of more and more extreme restrictions ever since.
These restrictions have had extreme consequences. Between 2011 and 2015, seven of the state’s 16 abortion clinics closed or reduced operations (six full-service clinics remain open today and three additional clinics provide medical abortion services). A complete abortion ban in the state could increase the average distance a woman has to travel in Ohio to get to an abortion clinic from an average of 26 miles to 269 miles in the worst case. , according to a recent study.
It’s a burden that significantly hurts people in rural areas, who have seen clinics in their county close and who will have to take more time off work to commute.
“It’s kind of death by a thousand cuts,” said Sri Thakkilapati, acting executive director of PreTerm, an abortion clinic in Cleveland. “Maybe you could overcome one or two of those things, but overall it becomes a really tedious process,”
As the Supreme Court weighs in on overturning Roe v. Wade, Ohio is now considering a near-total ban on abortion. Such a ban would mean those seeking abortions will have to pay “exorbitant income” to travel to get abortions out of state, said Danielle Bessett, a University of Cincinnati professor who studies access to ‘abortion. “People who will not be able to afford this trip … will then try to obtain home abortion care themselves. And we’ll probably see a lot of inequity in how people are prosecuted and arrested for this,” she said.
And finally, she said, there will be those who try neither and are forced to carry their pregnancies to term. “There are also equity issues there, with black women having the highest maternal mortality rate,” she said.
While lawmakers have pushed these tough restrictions, they have always remained out of step with what most Ohioans think. Polls have consistently shown that a majority of Ohio voters support some form of legalized abortion, while a minority think it should be illegal.
“Those who are against abortion and claim a religious tradition, they don’t speak for me. They do not represent the countless people who are faithfully pro-choice. Same with our elected officials. They don’t represent who we are and what we believe in our communities,” said Elaina Ramsey, executive director of Faith Choice Ohio, which works to protect access to abortion.
Thakkilapati agrees. “It’s frustrating. In some ways, it’s encouraging that people think abortion should be a right and should exist for people in Ohio. It helps to know that there are more of us. But in some respects, it’s very discouraging,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to change anything.