Ohio isn’t an anomaly—the anti-choice movement is about punishment

Earlier this month, the Ohio state House passed a bill that would ban abortion with virtually zero exceptions when the fetus develops a heartbeat at about six weeks, which is before many women realize they’re pregnant. And as of last week, Ohio’s state House is considering another bill, HB 565, which would confer personhood upon fetuses and criminalize abortion.

Violation of this law, either by offering abortion care or receiving it, would warrant punishment ranging from a prison sentence to the death penalty.

HB 565 is still under consideration by the House health committee and likely won’t be voted on this year. Notably, Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich vetoed a fetal heartbeat abortion ban passed in 2016, but has also signed into law a dangerous bill banning abortion at 20 weeks, in violation of Roe v. Wade’s guarantee of the right to abortion until fetal viability.

As shocking as killing those women for seeking health care may sound, considering one in four women has an abortion before turning 45, Ohio’s HB 565 isn’t isolated. Rather, it’s part of a terrifying, mounting trend of conservative thinkers and anti-choice lawmakers calling for the punishment of those who provide and have abortions.

Earlier this year, prominent conservative columnist Kevin Williamson was terminated from a brief stint at The Atlantic when he adamantly stood by his opinion that women who have abortions should be sentenced to the death penalty by hanging. Suffice to say, the usual band of “free speech” advocates was enraged, as if there’s nothing violent about advocating for a quarter of all American women to be hanged. Williamson’s comments and their high-profile nature brought an uncomfortable, oft-dodged question to the forefront: If anti-choice politicians really do regard fetuses as people, and abortion as murder, what is the appropriate consequence for people who have abortions?

Around the same time Williamson’s comments went viral, Republican Idaho state Sen. Bob Nonini similarly called for policy to subject women who have abortions to the death penalty by hanging. On the campaign trail in 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump said there “must be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions. And Ohio is not the only state that has floated legislation of this nature; Oklahoma and Texas have both considered bills to recognize abortion as a felony in recent years.

Other state anti-abortion laws have centered around shaming and punishing women, too—albeit less explicitly. Fetal burial laws in states like Texas briefly required women to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket to bury or cremate the remains of their fetus, before being struck down in federal court. An Arizona law enacted earlier this year requires women who have abortions to submit lengthy, detailed explanation justifying their choice. And, of course, there are “rape exceptions” to anti-abortion bills that force survivors to prove their trauma just to receive health care. Each of these policies has costly, invasive, and even traumatic consequences for women seeking reproductive health care.

Mainstream anti-choice politicians have a long history of attempting to pivot from the question of what punishment women who have abortions should face. But in addition to comments from Williamson, Nonini, and Trump, Ohio’s HB 565 should make the anti-choice perspective on punishment—and the value of women’s lives—clear. In recent years, in tandem with the rise of Trump’s political career, there has been a jarring increase in threats, violence and both attempted and completed murders at abortion clinics. This uptick in anti-choice violence has gotten minimal coverage by media outlets, which instead seem more interested in  Republican politicians being yelled at in public.

The reality is that obstructing access to contraception or abortion is a form of reproductive coercion and is inherently violent. One need not look further than the 25 million unsafe abortions that take place every year on the global level, the majority occurring in countries where abortion is illegal or highly restricted. In the U.S., compared with women who were able to access abortions, women who sought but were denied abortion care were more likely to go on to struggle with poverty, physical and mental health, and remain trapped in abusive relationships. For some women with severe health conditions, an unwanted pregnancy and delivery could kill them, which is perhaps part of the reason why the U.S. has the highest maternal death rates in the industrialized world—especially among women of color—with higher rates in states with more abortion restrictions.

Ultimately, whether or not women are punished by the courts, restricting abortion is an act of control that has been proven time and again to jeopardize women and their children’s lives. Anti-choice ideology reflects the prioritization of a select minority of people’s personal beliefs over the livelihood and autonomy of women; it is the degradation of women as a unit, stripping women of our humanity to instead confer it upon fetuses. And whether or not women face the death penalty or exorbitant fines for having abortions, the belief that the government can force people to give birth marks a fundamental violation of consent, and threatens our privacy, health, and safety.

Featured Image: Susan Walsh/AP Images

Kylie Cheung is the author of 'The Gaslit Diaries,' a book of essays exploring the gaslighting and politics that underlie American women's everyday experiences in the patriarchy. She writes about reproductive justice, women's/LGBTQ rights, and national politics. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering for political campaigns and re-watching The Office. Learn more about her work at www.kyliecheung.tumblr.com.

Kylie Cheung is the author of the book, 'The Gaslit Diaries,' a series of essays exploring the gaslighting and politics that underlie American women's everyday experiences in the patriarchy.

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