ACLU: Ohio abortion ban part of a larger scheme to end abortion access

ACLU: Ohio abortion ban part of a larger scheme to end abortion access
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Last week, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) signed legislation that bans abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy — that’s before most many women even know they’re pregnant. With DeWine’s signature, Ohio became the third state this year to enact this type of ban, following Kentucky and Mississippi last month. Georgia — where similar legislation is awaiting Governor Brian Kemp’s (R) signature — is poised to be next. About 10 other states, including Texas, Missouri, and Alabama, are also considering bans.

These bans are seemingly unconstitutional under more than 45 years of Supreme Court precedent, starting with Roe v. Wade. The politicians passing these laws know that, of course, but they are emboldened by changes on the Supreme Court and are hoping that these laws will be the means the court will use to overturn Roe. As one state representative in Ohio said following the passage of Ohio’s ban last week: "Will there be a lawsuit? We're counting on it. We're excited about it." 

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The prospect that the court might actually overturn Roe is extremely worrisome. But that is far from the only thing that we need to be concerned about. With all the discussion of abortion bans, it is also critically important to understand that the bans are not the only type of attacks that can end abortion access. 

Since 2011, states have enacted more than 400 restrictions that have pushed abortion care out of reach for many. For example, recently passed restrictions are being used to try to shut down clinics in states like Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and Arkansas. Already, seven states are down to a single abortion clinic. And, in Louisiana, unless the Supreme Court steps in, a state law will prevent all but a single doctor in the state from being able to provide abortion care.

Laws like these can make abortion as good as illegal for many — particularly people with low-incomes, people of color, young people — without the Supreme Court even having to announce that it is overturning Roe.

Quietly pushing abortion out of reach in this way has been a core part of the strategy for decades, starting back in the 1970s when U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) first proposed a law that prevents people enrolled in Medicaid from using their insurance to cover the cost of an abortion if they need one. In explaining the reason for his proposal, Rep. Hyde said, “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the Medicaid bill.”

When understood in context, the bans aren’t out of left field. Rather, they are the culmination of a decades’ long, calculated effort to end abortion care entirely. Or, as a spokesperson from Ohio Right to Life candidly admitted last week, the bans are just the “next step in our incremental approach to end abortion.” What makes this surge of abortion bans different is that instead of, for example, pretending to care about protecting women’s health, they are making explicit their true goal of preventing women from getting abortion care at all.

So, to be sure, we will fight continue to fight these abortion bans in legislatures and in court. But it’s also critical that we put a stop to the myriad other restrictions that for many people stand in the way of their ability to get an abortion just as surely as the state had banned it.

Jennifer Dalven is the director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.