Ohio lawmakers passed the so-called “heartbeat bill” on Tuesday, making abortions after six weeks illegal. The strictest restriction in the country, this bill is essentially an outright ban on all abortions. All that’s left for it to become law is a signature from virulent anti-choice Governor John Kasich.
The first sign of pregnancy is usually a missed period, which, depending on when in the cycle conception took place, can be four weeks into a pregnancy. But a missed or “irregular” period can also be caused by stress, weight gain or loss, changes in birth control and various illnesses. At least 30 percent of women experience irregular periods at some point between puberty and menopause. Because of its relative frequency, a missed period isn’t suggestive enough of pregnancy to send most women running to their gynecologists.
In a much-referenced study on early signs of pregnancy, only 50 percent of women reported having any symptoms at all by the fifth week. For most women, morning sickness begins between six and eight weeks.
These statistics mean that most women don’t even begin to suspect that they’re pregnant until they’re just approaching—or past—the cut-off point for when they’d be allowed to get an abortion under Ohio’s bill. Yes, a pregnancy test can turn up positive even a few days before the first missed period of a pregnancy, but unless a woman is actively trying to get pregnant, she would have absolutely no reason to take a test at that point.
Do Ohio lawmakers really expect women to take pregnancy tests every morning before they brush their teeth, just in case? Aside from how absurd and paranoid of any woman that would be, First Response pregnancy tests cost $19.99 for a pack of three at Walgreens. (They come in packs of three because false negatives are common in early tests, so they recommend you use more than one). That’s an expense not many could afford, even if they buy the tests in bulk on Amazon.
And yet, even if this bill becomes law and drives Ohio women into such a hyper-vigilant state that they run to their doctors every time their periods come a day late, there’s still the issue of scheduling a procedure before the six-week deadline.
As of 2013, only 11 abortion providers operated in the state of Ohio—a state with a population of more than 11.5 million. In that same year, ninety-one percent of counties in that state, where 54 percent of women lived, had zero abortion providers. If that scarcity doesn’t already exemplify the problem of limited access, restrictions passed earlier this year have made it even more difficult for Ohio women to get abortions. The new restrictions now require women to attend counseling, after which they have to wait at least 24 hours before having the procedure. That means making two separate appointments and two separate trips to a facility that likely isn’t close to where they live.
Even if an Ohio woman does realize she’s pregnant before the six-week cut-off—which, again, many women won’t—she may be left with mere days to schedule a counseling appointment, travel to another county to convince a counselor that she does, in fact, know what she wants to do with her body, travel back home or pay for a hotel, wait 24 hours, and, if she’s lucky, get another appointment for the actual procedure before the clock runs out.
This absurd race against the clock aside, blood tests can’t detect chromosomal abnormalities like Down Syndrome or the severe, untreatable Trisomy 18 until at least the eleventh week of pregnancy—far past the deadline here.
Ohio’s bill isn’t just a restriction on abortion access. The near impossibility of a woman making this deadline amounts the bill to a ban altogether. If this bill is signed into law, which, given Kasich’s track record, it likely will be, women in Ohio will have better luck stocking up on Plan B and taking it every time they have sex—or right away after they’re raped, since the “heartbeat bill” doesn’t include an exception for rape or incest.