I’m a lifelong Ohioan. When someone says “O-H,” I say “I-O.” I can identify different types of soybeans, breeds of dairy cattle, and high school football teams based on their colors. I’ve always been proud to live in the ultimate bellwether state, but now I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve become the what-are-they-thinking state.
Earlier this month, two Republican legislators introduced a total abortion ban. Abortion restrictions are as common as potholes in Ohio, so abortion rights advocates weren’t surprised to see another one.
But when we started reading House Bill 565, we were horrified. Spanning over 284-pages, the bill calls for the “abolition of abortion in the state of Ohio and the protection of unborn humans” with absolutely no exceptions. In fact, people who provide or have abortions could be charged with murder under the proposed law.
Yes, you read that correctly. This bill would allow people who have abortions to be charged with murder, which is punishable by the death penalty in Ohio.
I’m not worried about that, though. Like several of Ohio’s recent attempts to block abortion access, this bill almost certainly won’t become law. I’m confident that the bill’s language is too extreme, too polarizing, and too unconstitutional to gain a stamp of approval from our very conservative legislature and our not-so-moderate Republican governor, presidential hopeful John Kasich. Even if the bill does pass and Gov. Kasich signs it, experts on both sides of the debate agree that it won’t hold up in court.
Abortion opponents in Ohio have been engaged in a years-long fight to overturn Roe v. Wade, using the state as a testing ground for laws that might one day be challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court. Abortion opponents know that a bill doesn’t have to pass to make an impact. As we saw with the 2016 iteration of the ill-fated six-week ban, which would have eliminated access to abortions at a point in pregnancy when most people don’t even know they’re pregnant, these extreme bills are often partnered or countered with harmful restrictions or bans that seem mild and compassionate when compared to the more restrictive alternative. This is how Gov. Kasich and the Ohio GOP managed to pass the 20-week abortion ban, ending access to abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation with few, very limited exceptions, without much controversy in 2016.
Even when bills like these aren’t partnered with complementary legislation, they still wreak emotional havoc on people who have had or might have an abortion. The suggestion that those who provide or have abortions deserve to be criminalized—possibly put in prison or sentenced to death—is unbelievably wrong and dangerous, but it will continue to linger in people’s minds long after this ridiculous bill is put to rest.
In our polarized political climate, we’ve seen incendiary anti-abortion rhetoric like this fuel fears and hateful behavior that often becomes violence. Admitted killer Robert Lewis Dear Jr., referred to the debunked and doctored smear campaign directed at Planned Parenthood as part of his motive for entering a Colorado Springs clinic and killing three in November 2015. Dr. David Gunn and Dr. George Tiller were murdered by abortion opponents after decades of inflamed rhetoric labeling both physicians as murderers in the mainstream media.
Reading headlines about murder charges for Ohioans who have abortions made me fear for my family’s safety for the first time since my abortion in 2013. I’m an Ohioan who had an abortion. I share my story widely and frequently to bust abortion stigma, and most people I know are aware of my feelings about abortion access. There’s even a pro-choice sign in my front yard.
Will this bill push one of my neighbors over the edge and encourage violent behavior? Will someone confront me on the sidewalk with my dogs, try to hurt me in my home, or do something to put my infant son at risk? I hope not, but I feel uneasy these days.
I’m not a murderer, and I know this. I’m a mom, a wife, a daughter, a dog owner, a gardener, a writer, and a friend. I know having an abortion was the right decision for me and my family, and if I faced the same choice today I wouldn’t consider changing my decision.
Having an abortion allowed me to escape a dangerous and abusive marriage, focus on my career, and start a family with someone I want to spend the rest of my life with, on my terms. The incendiary language used in abortion bills like HB 565 is designed to make my community turn against me. The stigma it creates around abortion is another facet of John Kasich and the Ohio GOP’s plan to reduce access to abortion care in the state by making it easier for anti-abortion politicians to pass anti-choice legislation.
For people who have had an abortion, or those who provide them, abortion stigma feels like a cloud overhead wherever we go. Even people like me who live in progressive, pro-choice communities and are surrounded by supportive, abortion-positive friends worry about abortion stigma in new environments.
I worry that one of my son’s teachers might learn about my abortion advocacy work and treat him differently because of it. I worry that someone with a gun might confront me in a grocery store or a library while I’m wearing a pro-choice shirt. I worry that my doctors might treat me differently when I tell them about my medical history. I’m not going to stop fighting against abortion stigma, but it shouldn’t be this hard.
Republicans in Ohio should be ashamed of themselves for putting people like me in this position. We’re part of our communities, our families, our workplaces, and our faith groups. Everyone loves someone who has had an abortion, whether they realize it or not.