In what is seen as the first major attack on women’s reproductive rights since Donald Trump was elected president, the Ohio state legislature has passed a bill that would ban abortion after 6 weeks (or a month and a half) of pregnancy. It now awaits the signature of Ohio’s anti-abortion Republican governor John Kasich who has 10 days to veto it or it becomes law.
Called the ‘Heartbeat Bill’, the bill aims to ban abortion after a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected, although it must be noted that a fully developed heart forms only after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The only exception to the ban would be if the life of the woman is in danger; rape, incest and fetal anomaly are not included. It is disheartening to note that this bill which would criminalise a woman’s right to choose and set them back by decades, was written by a radical Christian radioshow host and is part of a wider bill on child abuse.
To make it more clear as to how restrictive this law will be, most women find out that they are pregnant only after 4 weeks of conception because they miss their menstrual period at that point in time. This gives them only a two-week window to figure out if they are actually pregnant and decide whether they want to go ahead with the pregnancy or not. Moreover, fetal defects caused by Zika virus or in general can go undetected even after the 20th week of pregnancy. Anti-abortion lawmakers in Ohio have stated that this bill was intended to inculcate personal responsibility aimed at reducing abortions in the state.
While the landmark Roe vs Wade is still in effect, many states including Ohio have gone ahead and chipped away at women’s reproductive rights by creating a number of restrictions or hoops to jump (in-person meeting with doctor with a 24-hour waiting period, limitations on drug usage, restrictions on abortion clinics), instead of outrightly banning abortion because it won’t survive challenges in court. The constitutional validity of this bill too is highly questionable and it may not survive, but extreme pro-life crusaders are confident that President-elect Trump has ‘changed the dynamic’ and will appoint conservative justices opposed to abortion to the Supreme Court – hence this pre-emptive ban.
The onslaught on women’s sexual and reproductive health rights has been a battle long fought throughout world history and is something that lasts to this very day but there has always been one common factor – predominantly male legislatures drawing battle lines over women’s reproductive organs. In many places, women face jail time for simply exercising their agency. And that has almost always resulted in women having to resort to extreme fatal measures to abort their pregnancies. Let’s never forget that the cloth hanger situation and usage of other ‘DIY kits’ was not so long ago. We should never have to return to that, ever.