“Last summer, people would call the clinic and ask, ‘Is abortion still legal?'” Toni Thayer, the Director of Development and Communications for Preterm, an abortion clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. The calls came after Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) signed into law a ban on late-term abortions if the fetus is declared “viable,” a source of confusion for some people.
Abortion restrictions only recently gained nationwide attention in the wake of Virginia’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to require some women seeking abortions to have transvaginal ultrasounds, supposedly for the purpose of gestational dating. But Ohio’s long been a first stop for anti-abortion groups seeking to pass new restrictions to limit women’s access to a range of reproductive health services.
In fact, Ohio was also the home of a recent push to enact legislation that would enact a “fetal heartbeat” law, criminalizing abortions after the heartbeat can be heard.
“It’s strange for Ohio to be on the cutting edge of these restrictive laws,” said Case Western University Law professor Jessie Hill, the director of the university’s Center for Social Justice, compared to other states with more staunchly conservative populations.
Thayer added, “There’s been such a long game on the anti-abortion, anti-contraception side, and they’ve been at it for so long and it’s seemingly started to work.”
Ashley Thompason, the regional field manager for Planned Parenthood of Northeast Ohio, said, “It’s not just abortion,” that their opponents seek to restrict, “it’s testing services, sexual health education, contraception, anything related to sex.”
Nancy Pitts, the chair of Women Have Options (Ohio’s statewide abortion access fund) said they exist solely to “give women their choices back” after anti-abortion legislation takes them away. “These bills are meant to be hurdles… to gaining access to family planning, to contraception, to abortions,” Pitts said. And, she noted, “Those obstacles are more easily overcome by women of means. For low-income women, they are real barriers.” As a large number of low-income women facing state abortion restrictions already realize, “A right is meaningless if there’s no access behind it.”
But although the women weren’t happy at what Thayer termed the “enormous” amount of anti-abortion legislation introduced in Ohio and other states in the last year, they hope it can have one positive side effect: bringing people’s attention to the issue.
Thompson noted that, as a result of legislation passed in 2011 eliminating state employee’s abortion coverage in their insurance plans (a move that Planned Parenthood opposed), “In September, all these state employees started getting letters that they no longer had abortion coverage, and they started calling our office asking if we knew about it.” She added, “Of course we knew, we’d organized against it,” but didn’t draw enough attention to kill the legislation.
“There’s been a lot of, not apathy exactly,” said Hill, “but low priority [for these issues].”
Pitts, too, is optimistic that the recent moves by anti-abortion groups against contraception coverage and for women to have transvaginal ultrasounds to obtain access to abortion. “People are angry. People are mad. They see that it’s hateful and mean,” she said.
[Image via UTSFL via Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]
[Ed. note: Thayer’s title was corrected after publication.]