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Ohio Just Defeated an Extreme Abortion Ban, but Don't Get Too Comfortable

Jennifer Dalven,
Director, Reproductive Freedom Project,
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December 15, 2014

Last week, the Ohio House voted on legislation that was breathtaking in its extremism: It would have banned all abortions after six weeks — before many women even know they’re pregnant.

First the good news: Legislators voted down the bill. That’s a real and important victory for women in Ohio, and it does represent some progress. After all, the same legislation passed the House in 2011 before failing in the Senate.

But I’m just not able to get too excited about this. Yes, they defeated the ban, but celebrating the defeat of such an obviously terrible proposal is a hollow victory. While it’s certainly good for the women of Ohio that the bill didn’t advance, make no mistake about it: Extreme politicians remain fully committed to doing whatever they can to make sure that a woman can’t get an abortion when she needs one. After their failure in Ohio, and the crushing defeat of similar measures suffered on election night, they might change their approach.

But one thing you can be sure of: They haven’t changed their goal.

Already, leadership of the new majority in the U.S. Senate has said that one early priority will be to push a law that will prevent some women from getting the abortions they need. You can bet the House will do the same, and extreme politicians in the country’s statehouses are itching to follow Congress’s lead.

And because of the change in tactics we have to be even more watchful than we were before. That is because instead of being upfront about what they are trying to do by pushing bans, like the one defeated in the Ohio, more and more politicians are attempting to hide their motivations by pushing restrictions purportedly in the name of protecting women’s health.

For example, we already expect legislators to introduce bills that target abortion providers. Publicly legislators will no doubt argue this about ensuring quality care for women.

There is just one problem. The medical experts have said loud and clear that these restrictions don’t make women any safer. Abortion is already 99 percent safe, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and this bill would accomplish little beyond putting women at risk by blocking care. The medical experts know that these laws aren’t about protecting women. They are about preventing a woman from getting an abortion if she needs one.

Think about it. Who should we trust when it comes to deciding whether something is good for patients: Doctors or politicians?

The same type of thing is happening in South Carolina, where some politicians have introduced a bill that requires doctors to go against best medical practices when they prescribe abortion medication and instead resort to an outdated protocol. Medical experts have rightly decried this as “bad medicine” that has nothing to do with women’s health and everything to do with preventing a woman from getting a safe abortion if she needs one.

In Tennessee, politicians have introduced a bill requiring doctors to display and describe the ultrasound of a woman seeking an abortion, even if she has said that she doesn’t want the doctor to do so. These types of laws don’t keep a woman safer or deter her from getting an abortion. But they go a long way toward making many women feel ashamed, which is, of course, the real goal.

Unfortunately, the list goes on and on, and the new year hasn’t even started yet.

It’s tempting to view these alternative strategies as a sign of progress. But that would be a big mistake. What these bills really do is allow canny politicians to look “reasonable” by stepping away from complete bans on abortion. Yet all the while they’re patting themselves on the back for advancing the types of laws that forced most Texas abortion clinics to close.

When politicians start advancing laws that will actually help women — not just co-opting the language — then we can all celebrate and declare a real victory.

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