Why Heartbeat Bills Won’t Stop Abortion

Mary McLoughlin
Opinion Editor

Both in Ohio, and throughout the country, this has been a scary time to have a womb.

In addition to Ohio’s recently passed heartbeat law banning abortions as early as six weeks, the Ohio legislature has introduced another bill that threatens reproductive rights.

According to an article by Vox, this April, an Ohio legislator introduced a bill that would ban most private insurance coverage of abortion. This ban extends to cases where the mother’s health is in danger, such as ectopic pregnancies. During ectopic pregnancies, a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. If the fertilized egg is not removed, ectopic pregnancies can be fatal. Instead of covering abortions to respond to the dangers of ectopic pregnancies, the bill extends insurance coverage to a procedure to re-implant a fertilized ovum in the uterus. In the Washington Post, Katie Epstein reports that this procedure does not actually exist.

Beyond this blatant delusion, the bill bans coverage for “drugs or devices used to prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum.” Jaime Miracle, the deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, worries that birth control methods such as IUDs and the morning after pill could be considered abortion under this language

Though this bill has not made it beyond committee, the reality that a man elected to office proposed a means of regulating women’s bodies that is utterly out of touch with female anatomy speaks to the way the movement around anti-abortion legislation attempts to achieve its agenda at the expense of women.

Similar six-week abortion bans are making their way through state legislatures in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. But the worst of the anti-abortion policies was just signed into law by Alabama’s governor. Alabama’s near-abortion ban outlaws almost all abortions and includes a penalty for doctors who perform abortions.

Eric Johnson, an attorney who helped draft the bill, justified the six-week timeline by saying,  “A man and woman can have sex and you can take her straight into a clinic and determine an egg and sperm came together.” This statement is medically inaccurate. The American Pregnancy Association states the earliest window at-home pregnancy tests are effective is two weeks after conception, and the blood tests offered by physicians have only a slightly accelerated timeline with their earliest window of detectability occuring 7-12 days after conception.

The only exceptions to the ban are documented medical emergencies when the patient’s life is at risk. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. Though President Trump ran on a pro-life platform, he tweeted in response to the ban that he believes rape, incest, and risk to the mother’s life should all be exceptions.

Multiple pro-choice organizations have sued these states over their respective abortion bans. Opponents of abortion hope that these lawsuits will travel to the Supreme Court where the conservative majority could have the opportunity to repeal Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationally.

Once, the repeal of Roe v. Wade would have made me happy. For most of my life, I was staunchly pro-life. I had grown up in a Catholic family, in a Catholic neighborhood, and in Catholic schools. I was told that babies were being murdered, so I dutifully prayed for the end of abortions, signed up for the March for Life (an annual pro-life demonstration in Washington, D.C.), and was disappointed when it was snowed out.

My stance on abortion changed toward the end of high school. I realized the Church’s teaching that life began at the moment of conception was not a legitimate enough position for a political platform. I did not want to live in a world where people’s religious beliefs were forced on me, so I didn’t want to see Catholicism forced on anyone else.

Though not everyone who opposes abortion does so because of their faith, all the arguments I heard that said life began at the moment of conception were religiously rooted. Additionally, findings by Pew Research suggest a tie between religion and pro-life stances. 94% of people who believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases were either certain or fairly certain in their belief in God.

Beyond changing how I understood the start of life, I began to see how banning abortion failed to protect life at all. The Guttmacher Institute reports that in countries where abortion is illegal, the abortion rate is 37 per 1,000 people. In countries where abortion is legal, the abortion rate is 34 per 1,000 abortions. These finding suggest that criminalizing abortions does not prevent abortions, they only make abortions more dangerous.

Though I don’t agree with a lot of pro-life opinions, I empathize with them. If you genuinely think babies are dying, I understand being committed to changing hearts and minds and doing what you can to make pregnancy a more viable option.

However, I have no empathy for those in support of these current abortion bills. Nothing in them is about life or dignity. If legislators truly wanted fewer abortions, they would start with making birth control free and accessible. There would be sexual education in schools. They would invest in universal childcare and the foster system. The government would pay for prenatal, neonatal, and all other childbirth related medical expenses.  

The Brookings Institution reports that 90% of abortions occur after unplanned pregnancies. This report finds that lack of agency and option for advancement in low-income communities, misinformation about contraception, and the prohibitive cost of birth control are the three major causes of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. A study by Washington University in St. Louis found that providing free birth control to women decreased abortion rates by a range of 62% to 78%. Contrastingly, the department of Health and Human Services found that among couples who use the natural family planning methods pushed by the same legislators who oppose abortion, up to a quarter of couples experienced unplanned pregnancy.

If lawmakers truly wanted to produce policy to decrease abortions, they would start with policies that have been proven successful–policies that give women options. But the disconnect between anti-abortion legislation and female anatomy and women’s realities demonstrates that none of these bans are truly about life.

If these abortion bans were truly about life, Georgia–the state with the highest rate of maternal mortality in the country–would not sentence women to motherhood when, for black women, 47 out of every 100,000 live births end in the mother’s death.

If these abortion bans were truly about life, legislators wouldn’t just tell women to put their children up for adoption when, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, adolescents in foster care are four times more likely to commit suicide than other youth.

If these abortions bans were truly about life, the same public officials who worked to pass laws to make abortion inaccessible would not pay for the women in their lives to have abortions.

If these abortions bans were truly about life, politicians would not be pushing to repeal Roe vs. Wade in order to criminalize abortions when a study from the 1960s found that, before Roe v. Wade, 18% of maternal deaths occurred from illegal abortions, and only 2% of low-income women who terminated a pregnancy illegally did so with a physician present.

Instead, these abortion bans are about reinforcing racism and misogyny. While it’s true that state legislatures that pass abortion bans have comparatively fewer women than the rest of the country, this patriarchy runs deeper than men legislating women’s bodies–after all a white female governor signed Alabama’s abortion ban and abortion affects more people than just cisgender women.

Banning abortion and eliminating insurance coverage doesn’t stop abortion. Instead, it ensures safe abortions can only be accessed by individuals with power and privilege. People who are struggling financially and other marginalized communities who are at an increased risk of maternal mortality are disproportionately barred from safely accessing abortions. Banning abortion doesn’t protect life; it reinforces social and economic systems of oppression.

Additionally, rhetoric that focuses on the potential of the fetus but ignores the biological and social realities of motherhood erases the humanity of the mother. Legislation that provides an imaginary procedure to respond to ectopic pregnancies shows an unwillingness to understand the female body as anything beyond an incubator. And the same people who argue that an aborted fetus is a loss because it might have grown up to cure cancer ignore that a woman who is forced to give up on her career and other opportunities to care for a child she does not want to or cannot afford to have is also a social loss.

I am writing this for a Catholic newspaper. I know that a big chunk of people who might read this will probably disagree with my stance on when life begins and the morality of abortions. But, I think that’s probably where our differences stop. There really isn’t a hard divide between the values of choice and life. Choices provide life with dignity.

If you are truly pro-life, then you must do more than ban abortion. I hope you’ll support me in building a country where more people have the sexual education and contraceptive resources to prevent pregnancies they don’t want.

If, as a Catholic university, the University of Dayton feels absolutely opposed to abortions, then there is no excuse for the Health Center not to provide prescriptions for birth control for the purpose of contraception. 86% of universities distribute condoms to their students. Not only has UD failed to take this necessary step to prevent unwanted pregnancies, students who have taken up condom distribution themselves have been met with resistance.

Right now, we don’t live in a country where banning abortion promotes life. Our maternal mortality rate is astronomical. We don’t have a foster-care system that can effectively accommodate babies given up for adoption. And even if everyone with a womb wanted to be a mother, we don’t have a health-care system or the necessary social services that make pregnancy a viable option.

The choice to get an abortion is not easy. No one looks forward to it, and no one whom I have ever met wants more abortions. Instead of working on one side of the aisle against women to take away reproductive rights, a truly pro-life stance would start with understanding why women have abortions and working with them to provide resources that prevent unwanted pregnancies and to reform the social and economic barriers that get in the way of wanted pregnancies.

Image courtesy of Flickr 

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