Breaking Down Ohio Abortion Care: How Potential Roe v. Wade Reversal Could Impact Abortion Services

To picture what abortion care might look like in the very-near future, data from the Ohio Department of Health illustrates what abortion care looks like now.

May 20, 2022 at 2:32 pm
click to enlarge Demonstrators pack Fountain Square on Saturday, May 15, to rally support for abortion care access in Ohio. - Madeline Fening
Madeline Fening
Demonstrators pack Fountain Square on Saturday, May 15, to rally support for abortion care access in Ohio.

The leak of a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that could overturn Roe v. Wade has opened up the floodgates for restrictive state bills across the country. In Ohio, a looking glass for the future of abortion care comes in the form of two "trigger bills" that have the potential to eliminate abortion care access entirely. The legislation would change the way doctors weigh medical decisions during critical moments of care and gives way to legal avenues for prosecuting physicians as felons. To picture what abortion care might look like in the very-near future, data from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) illustrates what abortion care looks like now.

What abortion care services are currently legal in Ohio?

Abortion is currently legal in Ohio until 20 weeks gestation, meaning 20 weeks after the point of fertilization, or 22 weeks after the patient’s last menstrual period. Lebanon, Ohio is the only city in the state where abortion is outlawed, but there was no provider in the city when the procedure was banned in almost all cases in 2021.

How much abortion care happens in Ohio?

ODH data for 2020 shows the resident abortion care ratio was 151 cases of abortion care per 1,000 cases of live births. Abortion care, overall, has trended downward since 2000, with the exception of slight increases in 2012 and 2020, according to data released annually from ODH.

The gestational time frame when a patient seeks abortion care has also steadily skewed earlier. There were 20,605 legal cases of abortion care in Ohio in 2020, according to ODH. Of those cases, 62.3 percent happened before nine weeks gestation, and 25.4 percent happened between nine and 12 weeks. That means 87.7 percent of cases of abortion care happened within the first 12 weeks of gestation, which is the first trimester of pregnancy. After the first trimester, about 10 percent of abortion care cases happened between weeks 13 and 18, and there were 441 cases involving pregnancies of 19 weeks or more.

What kind of abortion care is used in Ohio?

Most abortion treatments, about 47 percent, were carried out using Mifepristone, commonly known as the “abortion pill,” according to ODH. The number of patients receiving Mifepristone (as opposed to other methods like Curettage or dilation with evacuation) has seen a steep increase since 2015 when only 4 percent of patients were prescribed the pill.

Who seeks abortion care in Ohio?

Data from ODH shows 59.2 percent of 2020 patients were between ages 20-29 and 28.9 percent were in their thirties. Black patients accounted for 48.1 percent of those who sought abortion care, with 43.8 percent of patients listed as white. A majority of patients had never been married, at 81.8 percent. Those who seek abortion care in the state are more likely to already have children, with 24.3 percent having one child and 38.4 percent have two or more children. While patients' education level is somewhat dependent on their age, the data shows most patients' education stopped after completing high school or a GED program, about 38 percent. The second largest group was patients who have completed some college, but have not yet graduated, about 22 percent.

What kind of abortion care will be available if Roe v. Wade is overturned?

In Ohio, there is a six-week ban on abortion care in the pipeline (known as the “Heartbeat Bill”) but two different “trigger bans” are also in consideration: House Bill 598 and Senate Bill 123. Lawmakers have shown favor to the more restrictive “trigger” bans that would effectively eliminate all access to abortion care in the state, including in cases of rape and incest. The trigger bans also contain loose language that makes medical exemptions hazy. As it stands, Ohioans are projected to only have access to abortion care if a physician determines the procedure is “necessary to prevent the pregnant individual’s death or a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” The procedure could also only be performed in a facility with “appropriate” neonatal services for premature infants. Physicians must seek certification from a different doctor, with whom they are not professionally connected, to determine that abortion treatment is medically necessary. A doctor can get around some of the hoops in the case of an emergency, but neither H.B. 598 or S.B. 123 defines what qualifies as an emergency.

Will there be repercussions for those who perform or seek abortion care?

Abortion care won’t just be inaccessible, but criminal, in most cases. Those who are caught performing abortion care could face felony charges, hefty fines and jail time – up to $10,000 and 25 years in prison. Likewise, “promoting” abortion services would also be a misdemeanor. The physician could also lose their license. Both house and senate bills provide legal immunity to the patient seeking abortion care. Only those performing abortion procedures would be liable, but patients would be able to sue providers in a wrongful death cause of action.

What do Ohio voters think of abortion access?

A Pew Research Center study found most Ohioans approve of abortion care access in all or most cases, about 48%, while 47% disapprove.

What’s next?

The U.S. Supreme Court will make their final decision sometime at the end of June or early July. It is technically possible that the opinion of the court could change, but in the likely event that Roe v. Wade is overturned, states will then have the power to set their own rules. The outcome could create vast swaths of land where abortion care is totally inaccessible, forcing patients great distances to smaller pockets of the country for care. To access the closest abortion care providers, Ohioans would likely need to travel to Illinois, New York or Maryland.

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