As the Supreme Court is likely to undermine or overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion in 2022, access to abortion and reproductive care in Ohio is under threat. On Wednesday, Dec. 1, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, in which the prosecution urged the Court to uphold a state law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Due to the 2019 “Heartbeat Bill,” which is likely to take effect in Ohio if Roe v. Wade is overturned, all of Ohio’s abortion clinics are likely to be shut down, forcing those seeking abortions to travel out of state.
This past Tuesday, Kendal at Oberlin hosted an educational panel on the historical, legal, and religious context regarding the issue of abortion, focusing largely on Texas’ Senate Bill 4, which bars any person from providing an abortion-inducing drug to a pregnant woman, and Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act. Panel facilitator and Kendal resident Mary Van Nortwick’s aim for the event was to spark a community-wide discussion about abortion access.
“At Kendal we always believe that it’s important for people to understand the background and the context within which decisions are made by any of our political leaders or government institutions,” said. “Kendal has been very isolated since the pandemic started. We were in complete lockdown for several months. This case could overturn nearly 50 years of progress and when this opportunity came up, we wanted to make education the priority … [so we could] provide a substantive approach to a topic that has divided this country in many ways, especially as the Texas and Mississippi cases threaten abortion rights again.”
The panel featured Professor Emeritus of Religion Margaret Kamitsuka, whose scholarship explores the nexus between reproductive ethics and religion. At the event, she spoke about different understandings of abortion ethics between various religious traditions, stressing the contemporary pro-choice movement’s mobilization of a highly conservative interpretation of Christianity.
“Most people, both those against and in support of abortion, aren’t aware of these differences among the religious traditions,” Kamitsuka said. “I find that when I speak on the subject of abortion, that people — even people who consider themselves affiliated with the Christian tradition — are really unaware that current, very conservative viewpoints don’t represent the views that were held in Christianity traditionally and across its history.”
In an email sent to the Review following the panel, Kamitsuka emphasized the importance of discussion-based events like the one at Kendal’s, warning that threats to Roe v. Wade would undoubtedly affect the Oberlin community.
Nearly all forms of abortion would become illegal in at least a dozen states if Roe v. Wade is overturned, but abortion access in Ohio would not instantly disappear. That said, Ohio’s majority-conservative lawmakers are likely to renew a push to outlaw abortion in the state. In 2019, the Republican majority within the Ohio General Assembly passed a version of the “Heartbeat Bill,” which forbids abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.
However, a federal judge blocked the bill before it could take effect, citing Roe v. Wade’s constitutional protection of a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.
Although Oberlin was recently redistricted from Republican Congressman Jim Jordan’s 4th district to Republican Congressman Bob Latta’s 5th district, the City still falls under the leadership of a pro-life representative. In June 2021, Latta sponsored a bill that would uphold the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal taxes to fund abortion clinics.
“This radical and immoral policy makes it legal for taxpayer dollars to support and enable the abortion industry,” Latta said on the House floor. “One of the most basic ways we can protect innocent life is ensuring that taxpayer money is not being used to fund abortions. As a defender of the unborn, I do not support the removal of the Hyde Amendment.”
If Roe v. Wade is overturned and Ohio abortion clinics are required to close, the nearest clinic for Oberlin residents would be 94 miles away, in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. In other parts of the state, the closest abortion clinics would be in Virginia, Illinois, or New York.
College fourth-year Aniella Day, who is a member of the Oberlin Doula Collective’s leadership circle, says that the majority of ODC’s partnerships have been on hold since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization trains abortion doulas, non-medical support people who advocate for the person receiving an abortion.
“We’re not trained medical professionals,” Day said. “It’s our job to facilitate emotional and physical support. So the training that we give is about answering hard questions and giving physical support measures such as holding a hand, or rubbing a back, or helping with stress.”
ODC does the majority of its work with abortion clinics in Cleveland. If abortion became illegal in Ohio following the Supreme Court’s decision, Day is confident ODC would remain active.
“Everything would have to turn into something that is underground, like it was before Roe v. Wade,” Day said. “I think the collective would likely try to stay in touch with the people that we know from the clinic — ask them what they’re doing, and see how we can help in any way. Hopefully, we’d be able to get people to protests and help people figure out what would be a good way to challenge the ruling.”
Day also highlighted the ways in which social and economic inequality affect a person’s access to abortion rights. The reversal of Roe v. Wade would disproportionately affect low-income communities, where people don’t necessarily have the means to travel across state lines to receive reproductive care.
“In training, we’ve talked a lot about the fact that there are people who don’t have access to any kind of birth control and just don’t have the information that they need about how to use birth control or how they get pregnant by other means,” she said. “So it’s not always about education. It can be about things that happened to you in your life that you don’t have any control over.”
The Court is expected to rule on the Mississippi case in either June or July 2022.