In Ohio, the state House not only recently passed a “Heartbeat Bill” (HB 258) that bans abortion as early as six weeks, but is also considering an “abolition of abortion” bill that would make abortion a crime for doctors and patients. The bill would allow for the pursuit of criminal murder charges, with punishments as severe as the death penalty, against patients who receive abortions and doctors who perform them.

This bill, HB 565, would redefine the state’s legal definition of abortion as “[…]the purposeful termination of a human pregnancy by any person, including the pregnant woman, with the intention of causing the death of an unborn human, by any method, including, but not limited to, chemical methods, medical methods, and surgical methods.” Under the bill, as soon as a human egg is fertilized, it is considered an “unborn human.”

HB 565 was introduced to the Ohio state legislature in March, and is one of the most punitive, and alarming, anti-abortion bills in modern US history. Though by some accounts, the bill is unlikely to pass through the Ohio House, at least 20 Republicans in the 100 member house have signed to support it.

HB 258 and HB 565 have pro-choice Ohioans on high alert. In mid-October, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio put up five digital billboards in the cities of Columbus and Cleveland to educate Ohioans about HB 565 in particular. Each reads: “Life in Prison or Death Penalty for an Abortion? That’s What State Legislators are Proposing for Ohio Women.” Other pro-choice organizations in the state, including Preterm, have followed suit in enacting an aggressive public information campaign about the bill.

NARAL Ohio communications director Gabriel Mann tells Brit + Co that the organization is “telling Ohioans to tell their representatives not only not to pass these two bills, but several pieces of anti-abortion legislation, [and] to say no restrictions on abortion should be passed.”

The hard-line stance NARAL takes on no abortion restrictions comes from a long history of watching Republican lawmakers try to sneak in comparably minor (but still immensely impactful) anti-choice legislation amid panic over much more extreme anti-choice measures.

Mann tells us that, beyond the worry that a bill like HB 565 or HB 258 could actually become law, there is some concern that Republican state legislators are using either — or both — of these extreme measures as a “smoke screen” to pass other restrictions that may seem less harsh to voters by comparison. Mann recalls when Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich vetoed a previous version of the “Heartbeat Bill,” but then signed a 20-week ban on abortion instead.

Protecting abortion rights on the state level is more important than ever now that the Supreme Court is stacked in favor of anti-abortion conservatives. The addition of Brett Kavanaugh to the bench means there is a greater possibility that Roe v. Wade will be overturned or otherwise severely undermined. With abortion at such risk on the federal level, there can be no room for restrictions on the state level, where abortion rights have also been under increased attack for several years.

Mann says that both the “Heartbeat Bill” and HB 565 are meant to effectively ban abortion in the state of Ohio, but that nobody can say for sure exactly what state Republicans’ next move is. “They could be re-using the six-week ban as a smoke screen again,” Mann says. “We just don’t know. We’re looking at all potential outcomes.”

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