Texas’ Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions as early as six weeks, has reinvigorated Ohio anti-abortion activists’ support for the state legislature’s Senate Bill 123, which aims to ban all abortions, except to prevent the death or serious injury of pregnant women in limited cases. SB 123, also referred to as the Enact the Human Life Protection Act, is what’s known as a trigger law—a legislative ban on abortion that would go into effect immediately if Roe v. Wade is overturned in the future.
SB 123 was introduced in the Ohio legislature in the beginning of March and has been awaiting a first hearing. The Ohio legislature has been adjourned for summer, but will be making their way back for session within the next few weeks.
“Given that [Texas’] SB 8 was allowed to go into effect, we’ve already seen reports of Ohio lawmakers and lawmakers in several other states looking to copy the law and continue on their anti-abortion crusade,” explained Lauren Blauvelt-Copelin, vice president of government affairs and public advocacy for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio (PPAO).
At least seven Republican-controlled states have introduced restrictive abortion bans since Texas’ law went into effect last week. Trigger laws such as SB 123 aim to undermine Roe v. Wade. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “a reversal of Roe could establish a legal path for states’ pre-1973 abortion bans, as well as currently unenforced post-1973 bans, to take effect. Blauvelt-Copelin said that if Ohio’s SB 123 is not stopped from becoming law, it would have the same impact as Texas’ SB 8, which has effectively banned early abortion with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest unless there is a medical emergency.
In 2019, Ohio attempted to pass a similar bill as Texas’ Senate Bill 8. Gov. Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 23—the state’s six-week abortion law—but it was subsequently blocked by a federal judge on the grounds that it would place an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to an abortion before fetal viability, a status usually reached around 24 weeks of gestation when a fetus is sufficiently developed to survive outside the uterus. Since Ohio’s six-week ban remains caught up in litigation, abortion is still legal in Ohio up to 20 weeks gestation.
“We know that 20-week bans are part of a strategy to ultimately ban all abortion and a clear attempt to weaken access. This is amplified by Ohio’s 24-hour waiting period, ban on abortion services at publicly funded hospitals, and the requirement for all surgical facilities to have a transfer agreement with a local hospital,” said Blauvelt-Copelin.
Since 2011, 30 bans against sexual and reproductive health care have been signed into law in Ohio. Due to these TRAP laws (targeted restrictions against abortion providers)—half of the abortion providers in Ohio have had to close over the last decade.
“Young people under the age of 18 have to obtain parental consent or go through a cumbersome and traumatizing process of getting a judicial bypass from the state when they decide to end a pregnancy,” explained Jordyn Close, an Ohio state coordinator with Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity (URGE), a queer, youth-led reproductive justice organization focused in the South and Midwest.
Close also explained that during the most recent budget cycle, the Ohio legislature siphoned limited state resources to fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers.
Reproductive rights organizations are continuing their fight to make abortion safe, legal, and accessible in Ohio.
“We are currently in litigation on a bill that would force patients who have surgical abortions to choose between burial and cremation for their medical tissue,” Blauvelt-Copelin said. “Additionally, we are battling legislation that would ban a patient’s ability to utilize telehealth for their medication abortion appointment.”
PPAO is also paying close attention to Ohio’s city councils trying to ban abortion within their city limits.
In May, Lebanon, Ohio, was the first city to pass an anti-abortion ordinance that bans abortion within city limits even though there were already no abortion providers. Additionally, it criminalizes people who provide an abortion, offer a patient a ride to a health center to obtain an abortion, or provide support for someone using medication abortion over the phone.
“We also have our eye on Mason, Ohio, where the city council is preparing to introduce an ordinance that would prohibit any person from having an abortion in Mason—even though there aren’t any abortion providers in that town,” explained Blauvelt-Copelin. “This ordinance would grant any person a private right of action, like Texas, allowing anyone to bring a lawsuit against another person suspected of providing abortion in Mason or helping a Mason resident who seeks an abortion in Mason or anywhere in Ohio. This ordinance, just like Texas SB 8, is unconstitutional and will disproportionately impact people who already face barriers to reproductive health care.”
In the face of these challenges, organizations like URGE are continuing to educate people on healthcare access and reproductive rights. According to Close, URGE is also invested in mobilizing communities, centering the needs and leadership of young, queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, and people of color across Ohio, teaching them how to speak with their elected officials and equipping them with the tools to act virtually and in person.
“With a trigger abortion ban, SB 123, idling in the Ohio Statehouse and cities across Ohio considering ordinances to criminalize abortion locally, we continue to let Ohioans know abortion is still legal in the state, how to get help, and where they can access care,” Close said.