This week Ohio's state legislature passed a law known as the “Heartbeat Bill,” a bill that bans abortion following the detection of a fetal heartbeat at around six weeks. This is perhaps the most radical anti-abortion legislation proposed in some time. The bill as passed by the state legislature and is currently awaiting Governor John Kasich’s signature in the next ten days.
Outlawing abortion after only six weeks essentially outlaws abortion entirely. Many women are unlikely to discover that they are pregnant in this time frame. Even if they do, they are unlikely to be able to schedule an appointment and have a procedure done if they decide they do not want to continue with the pregnancy. Not only does this bill place an undue burden on women who become pregnant, it does not allow for any exceptions to be made in the case of rape, incest, or potential health risks to the fetus or mother.
This bill is likely to be challenged in court as a violation of Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Court case which asserted that women had a right to terminate an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy under the 14th Amendment and based on their right to privacy. Based on Roe and ensuing cases, abortions are legal up until the point of viability outside of the womb, around 21-23 weeks. This bill would set a dangerous precedent. It gives women no opportunity to make decisions regarding their own bodies and places an unnecessary burden on women.
The ironic thing is, increased restrictions on abortions do not lower the amount of women who seek abortions. According to a global study, countries where abortions are illegal do not experience fewer abortions, they simply have more clandestine and unsafe abortions (New York Times). The pro-life movement often tries to make their case based on the health and safety of women and children, and yet in trying to regulate this, they are putting mothers and children at increased risk.
Harsh restrictions on abortions won’t stop them, nor will they reduce the number of pregnancies. If we want to avoid situations where abortions are necessary in the first place, then we need comprehensive sex education so that when and if people decide to be sexually active, they do it safely. However, many states with high teen pregnancy or unwanted pregnancy rates also have abstinence only sex education policies (National Institute of Health). If we want to remove the effect, then we need to do everything we can to prevent the cause. We can’t have it both ways. If we really want to reduce the number of abortions, we need to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. Abstinence only education simply doesn’t cut it. Comprehensive sex education will keep people healthier and overall reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancies.
Pregnancy should not be considered a punishment for sex. Some argue that young women who become unexpectedly pregnant should have “kept their legs shut” and now they have to deal with the consequences, as if to say that they’re being punished with this baby for making what they perceive to be a mistake. Not everyone wants to or is capable of bringing a child into the world and that’s okay. That decision should be between the mother and medical experts, not some (probably male) lawmaker in the state capitol.
If you, like me, are horrified by the proposals made by Ohio and other conservative states, please consider making donations to organizations such as Planned Parenthood or the Center for Reproductive Rights