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Health & Science

"Free-for-all": Northeast Ohio experts explain what overturning Roe v. Wade could mean for Ohio

Protestors denounce abortion restrictions at the Ohio statehouse in 2018. Abortion advocates say Ohio would likely ban the procedure if Roe vs. Wade is overturned in 2022, meaning individuals would have to travel nearly 200 miles to access an abortion across state lines.
JO INGLES
/
STATEHOUSE NEWS BUREAU
Protestors denounce abortion restrictions at the Ohio statehouse in 2018. Abortion advocates say Ohio would likely ban the procedure if Roe vs. Wade is overturned in 2022, meaning individuals would have to travel nearly 200 miles to access an abortion across state lines.

There are nine remaining clinics that provide abortions in Ohio – all located in major cities or metropolitan areas. That means many of the thousands of Ohioans who seek abortions each year are traveling a significant distance across the state to receive access.

If Roe vs. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming months – which is likely, according to a first draft majority opinion leaked Monday – that distance could expand to nearly 200 miles across state lines.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research group that advocates for abortion access, estimates that Ohio would either fully or partially ban abortion if Roe is left up to the states, meaning those seeking the procedure would have to travel about 186 miles to Pennsylvania – a state that would likely not ban the procedure.

That's concerning to Charmaine Crawford, an associate professor at Kent State whose research focuses on gender and feminism. Individuals from impoverished urban or rural communities are especially disadvantaged in that scenario, she said.

“We have to think about poor women, Black women, other women who may not have the resources … being positioned to navigate the choices of what to do now,” Crawford said. “That’s why I think there’s a lot of anxiety around this.”

Overturning Roe would immediately cause confusion for both patients and providers in the state, she added, because Ohio lawmakers would be in charge of deciding if abortion is permitted under certain conditions, if at all.

There is an indication that legislators would ban abortion outright, she said. Ohio lawmakers have passed numerous abortion restrictions over the years, and recent legislation introduced would ban abortions under nearly all circumstances, including rape and incest, Crawford said. The only exception is in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, according to the bill.

“It puts us in a free-for-all,” she said. “Does that mean that now incest, rape and life endangerment – no abortions at all? What does it mean for other services? What does it mean for women who are already maybe in need of termination of pregnancy?”

A leaked draft of the Supreme Court's decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, shows five justices would move to strike down Roe in the case Dobbs vs. Jackson Women's Health Organization. However, the draft was written in February, and will be revised before the actual decision, said Jonathan Adler, associate professor at Case Western Reserve University.

“What we can presume from the document is that, after oral arguments, justices took an initial vote on the case,” Adler said. “What we don’t know is how other justices responded to that draft, [or] whether the other four justices that indicated they would support that position agreed with the rationale that Justice Alito’s opinion offered.”

The biggest challenge to Roe before this – Planned Parenthood vs. Casey in 1992 – also was initially set to overturn Roe, but justices changed their minds before the decision, Adler added.

The decision on the Dobbs case is expected in the coming months by the end of June, he said.

If Roe is indeed overturned, Crawford at Kent State said abortion advocates will likely lobby for national legislation that keeps abortion legal everywhere.

Corrected: May 3, 2022 at 6:19 PM EDT
An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Case Western Reserve University Prof. Jonathan Adler.