In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws banning abortion violate women's right to privacy, as protected by the Fourth, Ninth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In the 27 years since this decision, anti-abortion state and federal lawmakers have strived to bypass its effect by impeding access to abortions through myriad regulations.
According to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, an abortion rights advocacy organization, Ohio ranks in the top third of all states in enacting such legislation.
One way in which Ohio lawmakers limit access to abortions is by rigidly forbidding the spending of public funds on abortions. Money appropriated to the Ohio Department of Health for family planning services might not fund abortion referrals, nor might state medical assistance programs be spent on abortions. The state employee health care plan is similarly prohibited from covering abortions, requiring state employees to privately purchase a separate rider for abortion coverage.
Ohio has also established counseling guidelines as a prerequisite to any non-emergency abortion. Physicians must inform the patient of the nature and risks of the procedure, the probable gestational age of the fetus and the medical risks of carrying the fetus to term.
But, if not for several court rulings, these counseling guidelines, and Ohio's abortion regulations in general, would be significantly more restrictive.
An Ohio district court issued a preliminary injunction against a law that would have required physicians to provide a detailed description of the anatomical characteristics of the fetus at two-week increments (the state recommended using photographs); a list of organizations that could assist the woman during and after pregnancy, if she decided to have the child; and information about the father's support obligations. The law also would have mandated a 24-hour waiting period between the counseling session and the procedure.
The same court similarly enjoined a stringent parental consent law that would have required every minor seeking an abortion to obtain either written consent from one parent or a court order stating that her level of maturity exempts her from this requirement.
The state's existing parental notification law requires minors to inform one parent in person or by telephone. Alternatively, minors who file an affidavit stating that their parents have been abusive may, instead, notify grandparents, stepparents or siblings over 21 years old.
In addition to these temporary injunctions, several court rulings have permanently halted the enforcement of Ohio abortion regulations.
In 1995, the legislature banned an abortion procedure known as dilation and extraction. Such bans on specific procedures, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, might be constitutional, as long as safe and available alternatives exist. But a district court ruled that the legislative definition of the procedure in Ohio's law could be construed to include the safe and widely available dilation and evacuation method. Because of this vagueness, the court declared the ban unconstitutional.
In the current General Assembly, Rep. Jerome F. Luebbers, D-Cincinnati, introduced a bill that would ban partial birth abortions at all stages of fetal development, unless the procedure is necessary to preserve the health of the mother.
Labeled "infanticide" in Luebbers' bill, partial birth abortions are those in which the doctor partially delivers the fetus, uses a suction device to remove the fetus's intracranial material and then completes the delivery.
The bill passed the House and Senate in different forms, and legislators now are reconciling those differences. Gov. Bob Taft plans to sign the bill into law, after which the ban's constitutionality will certainly be challenged. Of the 28 state laws enacted to ban partial birth abortions, courts have fully blocked the enforcement of 17 and partially enjoined three.
Another bill, currently awaiting Taft's signature, illustrates the fervor with which some Ohio politicians pursue the eradication of abortion. The bill establishes a committee of health care professionals to decide which drugs nurses can prescribe and specifically precludes from the committee's consideration only one type of drug -- those that might be used to induce or perform an abortion.
The legislative success of such anti-abortion bills is indicative of the pro-life majority in the statehouse. And Ohio's leaders, undaunted by judicial setbacks, show no sign of fatigue as they continue to battle the abortion rights recognized in Roe v. Wade.