In the face of last year’s blue wave, Ohio proved once again that it may no longer be the swing state it once was. By strengthening the GOP majority in the State Senate and electing a conservative governor, Mike DeWine, the Buckeye State fended off the nationwide repudiation of a Republican-controlled government.
Just last month, Ohio’s newly inaugurated government won a major victory as the Senate GOP’s 25-8 seat supermajority decisively passed a “heartbeat” abortion ban, which is expected to pass in the conservative State House as well. While Ohio’s legislature has twice passed such a bill in recent years, neither was signed into law by former governor John Kasich. But now, Governor DeWine has vowed to sign this newest passage of the bill.
Ohio isn’t alone. This year, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee, among others, have also taken votes on similar bills that are expected to be signed into law, if they have not done so already.
This recent cascade of passages was preceded by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ signage of a heartbeat bill in 2018. The bill was one of the most restrictive anti-abortion measures in recent history; it’s ban on abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, as early as six weeks, would have nearly eliminated Iowan abortions altogether. But, soon after its passage, Reynolds’ heartbeat bill was swiftly overturned in court.
When Gov. Reynolds signed the bill, she readily acknowledged the likelihood of legal interference, but asserted her conviction that “if death is determined when a heart stops beating, then doesn’t a beating heart indicate life?”
If the torrent of heartbeat bills now making their ways through statehouses around the country are any indicator, Governor Reynolds’ words proved to be a call-to-action to legislators in Republican-controlled states looking to assert GOP influence amidst the turbulence of blue-wave victors and their battle with the Trump administration.
With the recent confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court and President Trump’s ongoing nominations of proven pro-life judges to federal courts, those conservative statehouses are emboldened to embrace a restrictive platform that they can push through their chambers. While supporters still acknowledge that any passages of heartbeat bills will surely be challenged in court, and likely overturned, the judicial route for such a measure is looking more plausible. With an increasingly conservative federal court, a repudiation of Roe v. Wade seems to be a possibility, and the GOP is sharpening its knives.
After all, the court upholding just one state’s heartbeat bill would open the door for similar passages in countless states around the country. Republicans control more state legislatures than ever before, and an upper court ruling could allow for Governor Reynolds’ seemingly extreme bill to become commonplace across the United States.
At the moment, five states only have a single abortion clinic and 25 have less than five clinics. Understandably, many of these same states are the most politically conservative, and some, such as Kentucky (which has one clinic), are among those who have just taken steps to enact heartbeat bills. If such a bill were to take effect, it would prohibit abortions usually after the sixth week of pregnancy. Considering that most women discover their pregnancies between the fourth and seventh weeks, a substantial proportion of expecting mothers would miss the window to terminate their pregnancies altogether.
Those women now rely on the luck of confirming their pregnancies early on and would only have a matter of weeks to explore their options, consider those options, and make a confident, considerate decision of whether or not to terminate their pregnancies. This is before even considering the impediments that other state laws could add to this sort of timeline, including mandatory waiting periods and ultrasound readings required by numerous states, most notably Texas.
For those states such as Mississippi with already waning numbers of abortion providers, a successfully implemented heartbeat bill would effectively complete efforts to cut off abortion access almost completely. Even in states with more abortion clinics still open, a bill of this nature would still most likely see a steep decline in the number of abortion providers.
A lack of abortion providers, an issue which this bill would exacerbate, morphs the issue of abortion access from an issue of just reproductive rights to one of classicism and privilege. Consider North Dakota, where only a single abortion clinic remains and is located on the eastern edge of the state. Bismarck residents are now three hours from their state’s sole abortion provider, and women in the northwest edge of North Dakota are over six hours away from the in-state abortion clinic.
In Missouri, 94 percent of women live in a county without an abortion provider, and in Wyoming that number is a staggering 96 percent. The journeys to such far-afield abortion clinics mean more than just a simple appointment. They mean time off of work, critical for women working by the hour. They mean access to reliable transportation, and in rural regions without extensive public transport, this means access to a car – a privilege hard to come by for the same women who struggle to make ends meet. They mean gas money, savings for the potential overnight accommodation; and for mothers, the money or reliable connections to provide reliable childcare.
In the cases of these women living several hours from their nearest abortion clinic, a heartbeat bill would mean more than a sharp reduction in the time available to consider an abortion; it would mean yet another compounding barrier on top of the circumstantial elements that already make seeking out an abortion an exhausting, and in some cases, an economically impossible task.
This new surge of heartbeat bills is already making its way towards reckoning with Kentucky’s bill already having been rebuked in the courtroom. But make no mistake, each bill signed into law will be one to watch; after all, just a single heartbeat bill upheld could mark a new, retroactive age of the American abortion debate.
Alex Wilson ’22 is a prospective political science and economics major and the VPR’s Communications Officer and Senior Policy and Finance Editor. He has interned for multiple Congressional campaigns and worked for Cincinnati non-profit ArtWorks