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Opinion: In Ohio, Motherhood is Both Mandatory and Punished

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Opinion: In Ohio, Motherhood is Both Mandatory and PunishedPhoto via Flickr.
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Remember in Halloween, when Jamie Lee Curtis uses a shotgun on Michael Myers, stabs him, and lights him on fire, only for him to rise to his feet and resume killing? I don’t know, for some reason that came to mind when I heard that Ohio legislators had, again, passed the Heartbeat Bill.

You’ve heard the basics. The law would ban abortions at the detection of a fetal heartbeat, as early as six weeks into someone’s pregnancy. This time, the bill is joined by another ban on the most common abortion method used in a person’s second trimester, dilation and evacuation (D&E).

On Saturday, Governor John Kasich vetoed the Heartbeat Bill, but signed the method ban. It’s one of more than 20 restrictions on reproductive rights that he’s signed during his eight years as governor, and another intrusion of politics into people’s private medical decisions.

As for the Heartbeat Bill, don’t be so sure it’s really dead this time. Things are different this year. We’ve got a conservative-majority Supreme Court, and enough votes in the Ohio House to override Kasich’s veto. It’s all part of the GOP’s grand plan to lawsuit their way to the highest court in the land, gut Roe v Wade, and strip millions of women of their right to bodily autonomy.

The Forced State of Motherhood

It’s a weighty decision to add a baby to a family. Before even considering the expense in both money and time of raising a child, there’s the pregnancy itself to consider.

Pregnancy is not something women go through with ease, as most in the condition will tell you. Roughly 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and those that don’t come with a whole host of symptoms: swollen and tender breasts, fatigue, nausea, mood swings, weight changes, constipation, numb and tingling limbs, and swollen ankles, fingers and face. That’s if everything is going as planned. Common complications include cramping, incontinence, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, infections, and preeclampsia. Pregnancy, labor and delivery — complicated or not — can be a traumatic experience for women as well, with postpartum PTSD diagnosed in one in 10 new moms.

Luckily for Ohio women, they don’t need to think about any of that stuff. They’ve got 103 men (and 30 women) to make that tough choice for them. And in each case, the choice will be the same: you’re staying pregnant and you’re risking your health, and you’re carrying that baby to term. Yes, even if you’ve been raped, and even if that rape was perpetrated by your own family member.

Pro-choice activists have said this for a long time, but it’s worth being said again: anti-choice legislators do not care about babies or the women who have them. If they did, they’d spend less time on unconstitutional, trash bills, and more time addressing our abysmal infant and maternal mortality rates. Funnily enough, as the heartbeat bill sat before the Senate, democrats proposed an amendment to require health insurances to cover maternity services, since women will be forced to give birth. That was knocked down.

No, this bill is not about protecting “tens of thousands of innocent lives,” as bill co-sponsor Christina Hagan (R — Marlboro Township) would have you believe. It’s about the imposition of conservative morality on Ohio’s people; it’s about control.

That’s apparent just from the bills themselves. But the pursuit of control was revealed time and again as the Heartbeat Bill was heard in the House and the Senate. Democrats stepped up to offer several amendments that would have curbed the number of unwanted pregnancies in the state, including a measure to provide free birth control to women who have already been pregnant, and another encouraging education on safe sex and contraceptive use in schools. They were also struck down.

Ohio lawmakers like to keep women uninformed. They’ve taken funds from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to subsidize crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which routinely misinform people of the risks associated with birth control and abortion.

These centers pose as real clinics, and even offer free pregnancy tests and sometimes ultrasounds to solidify that image. Once they get a pregnant person inside, CPC staff members lie to them about the likelihood of miscarriage in order to delay their abortion, which becomes more expensive the longer someone is pregnant. Can you imagine a state-funded program that lies to you about the risks of a liver transplant, or a colonoscopy? Laughable, right?

If you’re paying attention, the message from Ohio’s legislators is quite obvious: motherhood is not an informed, enthusiastic choice; it’s a requirement.

The Consequences of Motherhood

So, that message? From our elected officials? Yeah, it’s actually a two-parter: motherhood is a requirement, and your life should be harder because of it.

Okay, you accidentally got pregnant, and instead of being allowed to make a responsible choice and terminate that pregnancy, you’re now headed toward unplanned and unwanted motherhood. And that’s if you have good enough access to prenatal and maternal care to keep you and your baby healthy. Here in Ohio, that level of access varies based on geography, income, and race.

If all goes well, congrats! You now have this baby you weren’t really ready for and might not be able to afford. Thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), at least you can have up to three months off of work to dedicate more time to your suddenly bigger family. Oh, you expected to have an income during that time? Sorry, that’s three month’s unpaid leave. New moms don’t need a steady paycheck, silly.

Guess it’s back to work, maybe with a fresh c-section incision, lingering aches and pains from enduring labor and delivery, or chapped nipples from breastfeeding. Well, now you’ve got to find someone to watch your new baby for the 40 hours each week that you’re at work. Bet that’s affordable!

Hint: it’s not.

If you’re a single parent (because not everyone you have sex with is someone you’d want to parent with) in Ohio, quality child care can actually cost more than a quarter of your total income. That’s according to data from Child Care Aware, which also named Ohio as one of the top 10 least affordable states for child care.

There are, of course, programs out there that help families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. But those programs leave out low-income individuals making too much to qualify, but not enough to get by. Despite the availability of food stamps and other state programs, one in four children (630,000 statewide) are currently unsure of where their next meal is coming from. And despite the existence of publicly subsidized housing, the average renter in Ohio doesn’t make enough to afford a basic two-bedroom apartment. Disrupting a family’s fertility plan does nothing to mitigate these stressors, and could be the very thing that tips a family out of that tenuous state of “just making it.”

If Hagan and her cohorts were genuinely interested in protecting tens of thousands of lives, they’d start with these crises instead of inventing one. But they’re more interested in playing political games and making pawns out of women’s autonomy and wellbeing.

Let’s say it again, all together now: anti-choice legislators do not care about babies or the women who have them.

It’s all about control.


The Dwindling Right to Privacy

Post-Roe Ohio is Dismal but Doable

Criminalizing Miscarriage

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