What a New Ohio Abortion Ban Means For Women and Families

Ohio abortion ban 20-week

What a New Ohio Abortion Ban Means For Women and Families

Governor John Kasich signed a new Ohio abortion ban in December of 2016. It took effect March 14, 2017. The law bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.  If you live here in Ohio, you may be wondering how this law could affect you, your family, or your loved ones.

Talking to your doctor is the best way to get all the information you need on this sensitive topic as it affects you personally. As legal experts, however, we can start by giving you the basics.


Background on Ohio Abortion Ban

The new law and prohibits abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. This type of abortion accounts for an estimated 1%-2% of abortions in the U.S. Women usually have them due to health risks or fetal anomalies. The cut-off is 20 weeks after fertilization, typically 22 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period.

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision, extended a woman’s rights to privacy to include abortion up to the point of fetal viability outside the womb. At the time, viability was generally defined at the third trimester. However, that was updated in 1996 to be 23 or 24 weeks into the pregnancy. Because the new Ohio abortion ban limits abortion earlier than that, it’s likely to face federal legal challenges. In the meantime, Ohio citizens and medical professionals are legally obligated to comply.

Ohio is not the first state to use the 20-week mark to restrict abortions. More than a dozen states have similar restrictions already. Federal judges have found 20-week abortion bans unconstitutional in Arizona and Idaho.


Shifting the Focus from Viability

Abortion rights opponents hope to use the 20-week strategy as part of a greater plan to end legal abortion in America.

They hope to do this by shifting the focus from when the fetus is viable to when the fetus can feel pain. For this reason, the Ohio bill was called the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.”

Katherine Franklin, communications director for Ohio Right to Life, was quoted in Deseret News:

“Since Roe became law, the date of viability has dropped from the third trimester to 24 weeks. Now, in 2017, we know that unborn children can live at 22 weeks. You see all sorts of amazing headlines about babies who are defying the odds. If viability is a moving target, why don’t we look at something else?”

Ohio Right to Life supports the ban. At the same time as it supported this bill, the organization opposed the so-called “heartbeat bill.” The latter that would have banned abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat was detected — typically six weeks into pregnancy. The Ohio Right to Life group opposed the bill because it would likely have been immediately overruled in federal court. Governor Kasich vetoed he heartbeat bill in December.


How the Ban May Affect Ohio Women’s Medical Decisions

The ban does include language that allows exceptions in the ban for the life of the mother. Still, some critics worry that the language is too narrow. It does not make exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

This Huffington Post article summarizes changes that families might make based on this ban. Because many of the abortions that occur after 20 weeks are due to fetal anomalies, women may choose to get their second-trimester anomaly scans as early as possible (18 weeks). That gives them more time in the case of a “serious fetal diagnosis.”

However, even for those who start the process early, there may be very little time for additional testing. Delays due to factors such as the baby’s position or an uncooperative medical staff could cause further delays.

20-week bans also exist in Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia, limiting women’s options for nearby alternatives.


Potential Consequences

Over the past several years, more than half of Ohio’s abortion clinics have closed, for a variety of reasons. Greater restrictions tend to result in more closures.

As for legal punishment, Kasich was quoted in 2016 as saying, “Of course, women shouldn’t be punished for having an abortion.”

According to the Columbus Business Journal, the law puts doctors themselves in a potential legal catch-22. They could face criminal charges if they perform an abortion in the face of an emergency. However, they a malpractice lawsuit could await them if they fail to take action.

Other Ohio abortion legislation remains pending. One example is a law banning the abortion of fetuses with Down’s Syndrome. One thing that is certain is, abortion laws here in Ohio and across the country will continue to undergo scrutiny.


PHOTO: Darko Stojanovic / CC0 Public Domain

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