By Alex Misiaszek ‘21
On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued a monumental ruling to legalize abortion for all women in the United States. This decision, of course, is known as Roe V. Wade. Before this juncture, abortion was largely illegal in most parts of the country. In 1869, the Catholic Church banned abortion and by the mid 1880’s, abortion had been outlawed uniformly throughout the entire country. As the women’s rights movement began to pick up speed throughout the early 1900’s and into the 1960’s, several court cases concerning contraceptives set the stage for Roe v. Wade.
In the year 1969, a Texas woman named Norma McCorvey was pregnant with her third child and wished to terminate the unwanted pregnancy. At this time, abortion was legal in Texas but only in such a case that the pregnancy posed an imminent threat to a woman’s life. McCorvey grew up impoverished lacking the resources necessary to travel abroad to receive a safe abortion from a country where the procedure was legal so she resorted to dangerous, self induced methods like many other women of her time. After several failures, she enlisted the help of attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington to challenge abortion laws in Texas under the alias of Jane Roe.
The case was filed against Texas district attorney Henry Wade. In June of 1970, the court ruled that Texas’s ban was illegal because it violated the constitutional right to privacy. The case was taken to the Supreme Court who ruled in a 7-2 split on January 22, 1973 against Texas’s ban on abortion which ultimately legalized the practice for all of America.
In November of 2018, the Ohio House of Representatives passed the “Heartbeat Bill”. The bill mandates that abortions after 6 weeks, the earliest time a fetal heartbeat can be detected, are considered a fifth degree felony which is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine. The bill’s main sponsor Christina Hagan stated, “We believe Ohio is best positioned to send this through to the Circuit Courts and to the federal Supreme Court,” saying that the bill was specifically designed to take down Roe v. Wade. Due to the Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, Rep. Hagan is “very confident” the bill will become law by the end of 2019.
The bill is in direct violation of the 1992 Supreme Court ruling Casey v. Planned Parenthood, which states that a woman may choose to terminate her pregnancy prior to the point of viability which is defined as the point at which a fetus can survive outside of the womb. Casey v. Planned Parenthood mandates that the state may prohibit an abortion once a fetus is viable unless the pregnancy poses a threat to the woman’s life.
Besides considering the bill a violation of the law, many women’s rights activists feel the Heartbeat Bill is far too restrictive as most women do not know they are pregnant at 6 weeks. Family planning fellow Dr. Sarah Horvath states, “If [the woman wasn’t] intending to become pregnant or taking pregnancy tests routinely, most would have no idea they’re pregnant at that point”. The Ohio State Medical Association states that it is “very concerned” about prosecuting doctors for performing a procedure generally considered to be standard care.
If the Supreme Court rules the Heartbeat Bill into law, it will mean the outlaw of abortions across the United States and a fundamental change in women’s rights as we know them.