Ohio Republicans want to ban abortion before many women even know they’re pregnant

And have confirmed a man with zero background in public health to head the state's health department

Published November 21, 2014 5:04PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Stephen Lam)
(Reuters/Stephen Lam)

It’s been a while since I had to read the words “heartbeat ban” in a headline, but here we are again. Ohio Republicans have advanced a ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. This can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many people even realize they’re pregnant.

In addition to pushing a clearly unconstitutional abortion ban, Republican Gov. John Kasich has also appointed, and the state Senate has just confirmed, a man with zero medical experience to head the state’s health department. (It just so happens that the man who now heads the department in charge of issuing licenses to abortion clinics also opposes legal abortion, but that’s probably just coincidence, right?)

It is, in short, a very bad time to be an Ohioan who needs reproductive healthcare.

This isn’t the first time Ohio has tried to ban abortion at six weeks. The state was the first in the country to propose such a measure, back in 2011. It failed then, like it’s failed in several other states (except North Dakota, which had its law declared unconstitutional), because it’s so radical that it actually turns anti-choice politicians against each other and makes them feel very, very nervous about the rest of their agenda.

Republican state Sen. Keith Faber is one Ohio lawmaker who sees the heartbeat ban as a step too far. “I have grave concerns that if the Heartbeat Bill were to be passed, it would jeopardize some of the good, pro-life work that we've done in the General Assembly," he said. Ohio Right to Life and other antiabortion groups have also opposed similar measures in the past, and Kasich has weighed in expressing similar concerns. “I share the same concerns as Ohio Right to Life about what it could mean, but it’s a long way from getting to my desk,” he said.

This isn’t because any of these lawmakers are concerned about the impact such a measure would have on access. (Hint: It would be very bad.) Instead, Kasich, like Faber, is worried that if such a measure passes and is eventually taken on in court, it could jeopardize other, equally harsh antiabortion restrictions in the state.

In terms of its political reception, the six-week ban is kind of like personhood. Anti-choice politicians are split on it, mainly because it exposes how radical their agenda really is. Which is something, it seems, that Republican lawmakers don’t want the public to know.

And what about this guy who’s about to head up the health department in Ohio? His name is Rick Hodges and his last job was serving as executive director of the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission. His appointment and confirmation also appears to be in violation of Ohio law, which requires the director either be a former physician or have extensive experience in public health. Hodges has neither.

But he will, it seems, continue the Department of Health's record of denying clinics licenses. Since Kasich took office in 2011, six abortion clinics have closed. There are now just eight left in the state, and it's never been more difficult to stay open thanks to a law prohibiting hospitals that receive public funding from entering into transfer agreements with abortion providers.

“Governor Kasich couldn’t find a qualified medical professional willing to continue his regulatory witch-hunt against abortion providers and family-planning clinics, so he appointed Rick Hodges, a political operative who does not meet the legal requirements for the position, to be his new hatchet man. Now the Ohio Senate has rubberstamped Kasich’s pick, which will no doubt allow the politicization of this agency to continue," Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said in a statement.

“Hodges will be making critical decisions about whether abortion clinics will remain open, and whether our residents have access to the comprehensive medical care they need, despite the fact that he is neither a doctor nor a scientist. Unfortunately that means that the health and well-being of Ohio’s women is in jeopardy.”

Currently, Cincinnati is one clinic away from being the largest metropolitan area without a provider in the United States.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Abortion Abortion Rights Gov. John Kasich Heartbeat Ban Ohio Reproductive Health Reproductive Rights