In August, Texas passed legislation that began an onslaught against reproductive rights across the country. Now, a bill recently introduced by House Republicans in the Ohio Statehouse has been proposed and goes further than the Texas legislature. House Bill 480 would make abortion illegal at any stage of pregnancy, without exceptions for rape or incest.
Anyone who performs an abortion or “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion” can have civil action taken against them, unless the suer in question impregnated the abortion patient through “rape, sexual battery or gross imposition.”
33 Ohio lawmakers, half of the House GOP caucus, have already signed on to the bill.
Texas’s decision invigorated anti-abortion activists and hope it will serve as fodder for future challenges on Roe V. Wade. House Bill 480 is no different, with Ohio state Rep. Thomas Hall saying in a tweet, “My generation will be the one to outlaw abortion.”
Andrew Lewis, professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati (UC), has dedicated his career to studying the socio-political flashpoints that created the religious right. Despite anti-abortion rhetoric now being synonymous with fundamentalist Christianity, abortion as a political tool is a relatively modern phenomenon, according to Lewis.
“The religious right was not very active on abortion politics until the late 1970s, a few years after Roe v. Wade,” Lewis said. “Many conservative groups were conflicted about abortion at the time of the Roe v. Wade ruling, but increasingly conservative Christians were convinced about the immorality of abortion and mobilized to see that changed.”
Although state Reps. Jena Powell and Hall spearheaded the bill, it was not their brainchild alone. Behind each piece of legislation is a vast network of interest groups working together to overhaul abortion in the United States. Two key components of that network are the Center for Christian Virtue (CCV) and the National Right to Life Committee, each of which have played a role in bringing House Bill 480 into fruition.
Cincinnati Right to Life – the Right to Life Coalition of Ohio’s Southwest Branch — proudly endorsed the bill, calling the legislation “groundbreaking” in a press release.
“This will be a major step towards ending abortion in Ohio,” said Linda Streitmann, the group’s executive director. “We congratulate the bill sponsors on their work and look forward to working with them on this historic piece of legislation.”
Citing the large number of legislators who’ve already endorsed Powell and Hall’s proposal, Streitmann suggested the support for House Bill 480 extended far beyond the statehouse.
“I think we know that Ohio is a pro-life state,” Streitmann said, adding that “the people have elected a majority of pro-life legislators.”
Although Cincinnati Right to Life focuses on anti-abortion efforts in Cincinnati, it holds equal political influence statewide.
“We have a lobbyist we’re in contact with,” Streitmann said, explaining her organization’s legislative work. “We help evaluate and inform laws” and “work with other statewide leaders and talk about formulating legislation.”
Its political action committee donated $500 to the campaign of former Cincinnati Councilman Tom Brinkman in 2019 and gave over $2,000 to U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup’s (R-Ohio) election committee in 2020.
Like Right to Life, the CCV is a public policy organization founded in Cincinnati and actively lobbies legislators.
Billing itself as “Ohio’s largest Christian public policy organization,” the center — formerly known as Citizens for Community Values — has been influencing policymaking in Ohio for nearly forty years. CCV wholeheartedly supported the 2363 Act, another piece of anti-abortion legislation.
State Rep. Powell’s relationship to the group dates back far. Rachel Citak, a legal counsel for CCV who now sits on Cincinnati Right to Life’s Board of Directors, stood alongside her as she introduced the Save Women’s Sports Act in 2020. The act would have banned transgender women from participating in women’s sports at the high school and college level.
Right to Life and CCV may have footholds in the statehouse, but other pro-choice activists are making themselves known across the country as well. URGE is one of them.
Founded in 1992, URGE has expanded since its days as ChoiceUSA, now having chapters at universities in Alabama, California, Georgia, Kansas and other states.
URGE has advocated for the expansion of abortion access, along with more sex education in schools, maternal healthcare and creating a more sex-positive culture in the U.S.
Emma Dunhamel is an Honors Scholar at UC and currently serves as president for UC’s URGE chapter. Dunhamel began getting involved in 2019, “when an executive board member asked me to come to a meeting. Since then, I’ve found the URGE community to be empowering and a space where I can learn and grow.”
Dunhamel, and URGE in its entirety, has responded to House Bill 480 with “swift condemnation.”
“Of course, we are horrified by the prospect of a law that encourages vigilantes to prevent marginalized communities from being able to have power over their own lives,” said Dunhamel.
Professor Lewis doesn’t believe it will be completely overturned but suspects a more gradual erosion of the law is likelier.
“I am confident the Court will at least narrow the impact of Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, chipping away at abortion rights. Doing so could have the function of overruling Roe without being a direct overruling,” he said.
When asked if she thought Roe would be overturned in her lifetime, Streitmann responded, “I don’t see how it couldn’t.”
“Truth prevails, truth wins,” she continued. “We will continue to create strong Ohio pro-life laws. There’s going to be a great need for education about the sanctity of human life.”
To Dunhamel, anti-abortion laws are “an attempt to control and oppress the most marginalized, so those in power can remain in power” and are worth opposing.
“The power of young people coming together to fight for our rights is a force to be reckoned with, and we will never stop fighting for the rights of all,” they said.