A Bill has been introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives that could dramatically affect the access women have to abortions. House Bill 565 proposes to expand the legislature’s definition of a ‘person’ to include ‘unborn human’. This comes just after Ohio recently passed what is known as the ‘heartbeat bill’, which would make it illegal to terminate a pregnancy the minute a heartbeat is detected. This usually occurs around 6 weeks into the pregnancy, at which point many women are not even aware they are pregnant, with new mothers usually developing a baby bump between 12-14 weeks. If Bill 565 is approved in the Ohio Senate, the changing of the definition of what constitutes a legal ‘person’ would allow for criminal charges both against the woman seeking to terminate the pregnancy and the physician performing the operation. It could even lead to charges for murder, which could be punishable by life in prison or even the death penalty. The bill also controversially makes no reference or exception to cases of rape, incest or even life-threatening pregnancies.
The proposed bill faces a lot of issues when looking into its legality. Many commentators have pointed out how the new piece of legislation would directly defy the decision made by the Supreme Court Roe v Wade. This landmark decision effectively allowed women in Texas to have full control of their pregnancy in the first trimester. After this decision was made, a total of 46 different states altered their law in regards to abortion, demonstrating the widespread effect of the judgment. For House Bill 565 to be passed, it would have to overrule this decision, allowing for room for more states to follow suit and restrict women’s access to abortions.
This bill, unfortunately, reflects the growing threat to women’s rights to bodily autonomy surfacing in the United States. While the proposal may come as a shock to some, there has been substantial evidence of a move towards stricter abortion rules in recent years. Nothing is a clearer reflection of this threat than the election of Donald Trump, who is notoriously pro-life and even stated in an interview before his election that he thought there needed to be “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions.
Pro-choice advocates suffered another huge blow in recent weeks, with progressive Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy being replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, a controversial candidate whose election shocked many after a highly publicised trial for sexual misconduct. Kennedy’s vetoes of strict abortion laws have proven crucial in protecting women’s reproductive rights during his time in the Supreme Court, and many now fear that without it restrictive abortion laws will be passed much more easily. Trump himself promised to overturn the decision in Roe v Wade if he were to be elected, and now that he has the support of several conservative supreme court judges, it appears that it is fairly likely the decision may be overturned. If this is the case, several states, including Mississippi and Louisiana, already have in place so-called ‘trigger laws’ that would automatically ban abortion if the case were overturned.
Effectively, if this bill were to pass in the Ohio Senate it would not only represent a very dangerous attack on women’s reproductive rights in the state itself but could consequently affect laws in the whole of the United States. We already know the extensive negative consequences of banning abortions. We know that despite a ban, abortions would still continue. We know that illegal abortions would constitute a much bigger risk of the woman losing her life. We know that as a result of the horrific prospect of having no way to terminate an unwanted pregnancy and facing very few options, women are forced to go to extreme measures, seen with El Salvador’s ban which resulted in suicide being found as the leading cause of death among pregnant teenagers.
We know all of this, so for the Ohio Senate to pass this bill would be nothing more than a complete disregard for the autonomy and safety of women, a disappointing yet not completely unexpected move from none other than the self-proclaimed ‘Leader of the Free World’.