Solidarity Vital in Confronting Anti-Abortion Legislation

 In recent weeks, reproductive rights have come under attack in numerous states across the country — most notably Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio. Ohio’s “heartbeat bill,” one of the first to be passed in 2019, bans abortion after six weeks into a pregnancy and makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Furthermore, doctors who do not test for a heartbeat or proceed with abortion procedures if a heartbeat is detected could be charged with a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Although Ohio’s is far from the most restrictive abortion law in the county — Alabama’s makes even fewer allowances — it still drastically limits abortion access. 

Many of these bills have been passed in southern states, and all have been passed in red states with large rural populations, such as Ohio. In discussions about this legislation, there is a tendency to look down on the residents of these states as having backwards politics. This perspective creates an unfair narrative of personal responsibility — implying the states with restrictive abortion laws are simply less enlightened than more progressive regions. While this narrative hasn’t dominated campus discourse, it has come to Oberlin — especially since many students are originally from liberal or coastal states with significantly more progressive political outlooks, and complaints about living in Ohio are generally prevalent around campus.

Students are afraid of what the heartbeat bill and other similar bills might mean for their health and reproductive rights — and rightfully so. However, it is important that students recognize that every state’s popular support for abortion bans is less than 25 percent, and that we do not misplace our blame on the very populations that these bills affect the most.

Many of these places, including Ohio and, more locally, Lorain County, have diverse populations. Many also have large low-income populations. While college students are certainly affected by the threat of abortion bans — it is estimated that 45 percent of people who get abortions are college students — local low-income folks and communities of color are also extremely likely to be impacted. Even before the abortion bans were passed, these individuals already had limited access to health care because of high insurance costs and racism institutionalized in the health care system. The heartbeat bill is especially concerning for these groups, as health care is notably more expensive and often inaccessible for women of color, and the financial stress of forced pregnancy will threaten the livelihoods of many low-income people. 

Further, many of the victories for reproductive rights in Ohio can be attributed to the hard work of people from these communities. Women of color and individuals from low-income backgrounds have been an integral part of the fight for reproductive rights for years through organizations including the Women Have Options Fund and Pro-Choice Ohio which prioritize vulnerable communities. These organizations and many other local grassroots efforts such as the Oberlin Doula Collective have focused not only on abortion rights, but also on access to adequate contraception, maternal health, and treatment for reproductive cancers — all of which have been historically more inaccessible to women and trans people of color. These communities continue to bear the brunt of the most restrictive reproductive rights laws that the United States has ever seen. 

For these reasons, we must be careful and deliberate in how we place blame. The fault for these deadly laws does not lie with the general populations of Ohio, Alabama, or Georgia. The fault lies specifically with the state legislatures who drafted and proposed these bills and with the governors who signed them into law. Given the broad-based support for abortion rights across the country, these legislators are generally not acting on behalf of their constituents. Especially in Ohio, the reality of gerrymandered districts that result in an outsized number of Republican legislators plays a large role in unrepresentative legislation.

We cannot lose focus of these facts as we fight against abortion bans — activism and conversations must be framed around this important information and context. Now is not the time to fall prey to easy anti-Ohio rhetoric; now is the time to recognize that we — temporary and permanent residents alike — are all in this fight together.

Early this week, students organized a very successful fundraiser for abortion access, which included live music and raised more than $2,000 to support pro-choice advocacy in Ohio and Alabama. Donations will go directly to people seeking abortions. This is a great example of how we, as temporary residents of Oberlin, can productively fight against these bans while positively affecting the community around us. Fundraising for organizations such as the ones above, as well as national groups like Planned Parenthood, is a great way to ensure that abortion is as accessible as possible for the people who need it most. 

Many Oberlin students ultimately go home to places where abortion access is not so limited. However, many people in this country do not have the opportunity to simply move away from these laws. It is imperative that students continue to be active in the fight for reproductive rights, even if we are from places where these rights are more secure. We owe it to our fellow residents in Ohio and elsewhere who have fought for the rights now being taken away from them.