The only reason I write about abortion as much as I do, is because it keeps coming up in the news. Believe me, I would love if we all accepted that Roe v. Wade was a settled issue and states stopped passing things that threatened access to safe and legal abortion. But that's not the world we live in, and it's not the world we've lived in for many years.
This week, Ohio made the news when the state legislature passed both a 20-week abortion ban, and a bill that banned abortion after a fetus had a detectable heartbeat, which is around six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant. Governor Kasich vetoed the heartbeat bill, but signed the 20-week ban into law.
Much virtual ink has been spilled about the problems of the heartbeat bill, so I will not elaborate on them here. I am very thankful that this bill was not passed, but that does not mean Ohio is now a safe place for women who need abortions. And that is because of the new 20-week ban.
Prior to this ban, Ohio did not allow abortions once the fetus was deemed viable, usually at around 24 weeks. Now, Ohio joins 14 other states that ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy. According to Roe v. Wade, the standard to which abortion bans should be held, the state can only "promote its interest in the potentiality of human life," or "protect the fetus from abortion" once the fetus is deemed viable, or able to live outside the womb. If the state wants to ban abortion before that, it can only act within the interests of the health of the mother.
If I may play armchair constitutional scholar, that means that any law that bans abortion at 20-weeks for reasons of "fetal pain" or the life of the fetus is unconstitutional, as the fetus has not been deemed viable. This is why many states, like Texas, hide their abortion bans in laws that create impossible standards for abortion clinics, turning them into ambulatory surgical centers. Their reason for this is that "abortion is a dangerous procedure" and they are trying to protect the health of mothers. Never mind the fact that colonoscopies and birth itself are more dangerous than legal abortion.
Ohio's 20 week ban makes no such pretense. Even a major anti-choice group in the state of Ohio admitted that this bill was "nationally designed to be a vehicle to end abortion in America." Since a fetus cannot live outside the womb at 20 weeks, this bill is vulnerable to being struck down by federal courts, as many such bans have been in the past. I'm no legal scholar but Imani Gandy is, so she can better speak to the illegality of such bans.
On the whole, women do not have abortions at 20 weeks because they forgot to make an appointment in the first trimester. These women are carrying fetuses, many times pregnancies that they wanted and planned for, that have severe fetal abnormalities that make their babies unable to live outside the womb. Why didn't those women know about these abnormalities before 20 weeks, you ask? Because doctors, nurses, and nurse midwives, do not screen for these abnormalities before the 20 week ultrasound, due to the many changes that happen in a pregnancy. Many abnormalities that can come up on an ultrasound before 20 weeks can be false positives, and early ultrasounds can miss actual abnormalities.
Other times, these pregnancies pose a threat to women's lives. Sometimes women may have been raped and not remember it, and did not realize they were pregnant. Sometimes they are eleven, and they haven't had their period long enough to realize they were pregnant. Sometimes, women need to travel long distances to obtain an abortion. Sometimes they need time to save the hundreds of dollars an abortion costs. Sometimes, it's none of your business why a woman needs an abortion at 20 weeks, and the reason doesn't matter because she is legally allowed to do it.
Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land since 1973, and it seems like every years, we have to fight off new challenges to it. Every year since Roe v. Wade, it seems like the right of safe, legal and accessible abortion slips further and further away. With Trump able to appoint Supreme Court judges, and Federal judges across the country, the fight is going to be that much harder. All I can say is that the women (and others) who fought for abortion throughout history faced similar struggles, and never gave up. Neither will I, and neither will anyone else fighting for safe, legal, and accessible abortion.