There’s so much bizarre and extreme antichoice legislation being proposed in the states now, it’s hard to decide which is worst. But, at the risk of neglecting such standouts as Iowa, Virginia and Georgia, let’s focus today on Ohio, where a 9-week=old fetus recently “testified” on the state House floor.
What’s that you say? A fetus can’t testify? Well if you can’t suspend a little disbelief in the name of fun-with-fetuses, then Ohio is definitely not the state for you. Fully half the House members there are now sponsoring the “Heartbeat Bill,” which would outlaw abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is audible. The bill’s main backers—the crazy Janet Porter and her attention-grabbing group Faith2Action group—even filled the statehouse with red, mylar heart balloons. Get it—hearts? Babies have hearts!
A standing-room-only crowd was, in fact, treated to the heartbeat of a 15-week-old fetus at the hearing. The heartbeat of the 9-week-old fetus, meanwhile, was a little harder to hear. It took about ten minutes for the ultrasonographer to detect it and even then it wasn’t particularly clear. The Cleveland Plain Dealer described it as “faintly audible and hard to distinguish.”
The person you didn’t hear at all at the hearing is a 25-year-old Ohio woman who wanted to speak out against the bill. That’s because the woman, whom we’ll call Nicole, wasn’t allowed to testify. Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, had asked Lynn Wachtmann, chair of the Health and Aging Committee,
whether this young woman might be able to testify against the bill. (I figured I’d throw in his picture here, as I really like his red-patterned tie.)
Because Nicole is the mother of two children—one of whom is severely disabled, and requires her round-the-clock care—she wanted to be able to testify by video. Alas, Wachtmann, who is one of the co-sponsors of the Heartbeat Bill, denied the request, saying the technical difficulties were too challenging. This was apparently before he figured out how to project the sonograms in realtime—presumably on the same screen on which she would have appeared.
Anyway, since she didn’t get to talk in front of the lawmakers deciding the fate of her and all the other women of Ohio, I figured I’d tell you a little bit of Nicole’s story, which she just shared with me over the phone.
Two years ago, Nicole was extremely happy to find herself pregnant. Though she already has a 6-and-a-half-year-old girl and a 3-and-a-half-year-old boy, who requires oxygen, eats through a tube and has chronic lung disease after being born four months early, Nicole felt ready to have another child. When she was well into her second trimester, a fatal fetal anomaly was discovered through a routine ultrasound. After determining her child had no shot of survival, Nicole decided to end the pregnancy—a process made all the more harrowing because neither the hospital where her doctor was affiliated or her insurance carrier was willing to help.
"I’ve lived my life making ‘pro-life’ choices, but I think you can’t tell anyone else what to do," is how Nicole summed up her position on abortion. "Everyone’s situation is so different."
If the heartbeat bill passes, a fate that’s entirely within the realm of possibility, Nicole—and Ohio women who are as little as six weeks into their pregnancies—simply won’t be able to get abortions.
Ohio is worth our attention for a few reasons. First, the heartbeat hi-jinx is the kind of distraction we’re seeing lots of these days. With all eyes on the spectacle of heart balloons and women getting their pregnant bellies gooed up on the statehouse floor, three other bills are wending their way through the legislative process virtually unnoticed. One is a bill that would ban abortion at twenty-four weeks—a reasonable enough idea, since abortions are already banned at viability, except that this one doesn’t have an exception to protect a woman’s health against serious medical and mental health risks. Another would make the already difficult process for a minor to get a judge’s permission for an abortion that much more difficult. A third would make it impossible for women to purchase health insurance that would cover abortion—even if they use their own money.
And while political theater is overshadowing less flashy legislation in other parts of the country, Ohio is emblematic of the rest of the country in other ways, too. With a newly elected antichoice governor and a recent influx of anti-abortion legislators, some of the most extreme anti-abortion forces there and elsewhere are now emboldened to reach for wholesale bans of abortion. Older antichoice advocates don’t always like it, worrying that such broad laws will ultimately get struck down by the Supreme Court. Ohio Right To Life isn’t even supporting the Heartbeat Bill.
But even if their bold, stunt-driven strategy is short-sighted, the new guard can surely claim they’ve taken center stage—and, while there, managed to drown out everyone else.