On June 25 of last year, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, a federal judge lifted an injunction that had been blocking a 2019 Ohio law banning abortion as early as six weeks gestation—effectively making it next to impossible for Ohioans to get an abortion. Often called the “Heartbeat Act,” the 2019 law, which had no exceptions for rape or incest, criminalized all abortions performed after fetal cardiac activity (not an actual heartbeat) could be detected. This is a point before many people even realize they are pregnant. Providers could face a fifth-degree felony charge and a year in prison. Polling shows that the majority of Ohioans are in opposition of the six-week ban.
“We went from being a state where our patients could get the care that they needed, to state with a really severe abortion ban within hours of the Dobbs decision, without any transitional period or preparation,” Lauren Beene, a Cleveland pediatrician and executive director of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, told me. She said she knew doctors who were working in clinics or on call when they learned about the change in law. “The care they had been planning to provide… was now illegal.”
The Monday after Dobbs, Beene went to work and heard from the mother of a 13-year-old patient who was not sexually active. The mother called and asked if her daughter should go on birth control. “‘What if she was raped and got pregnant?’” Beene remembers the mother asking. One of Beene’s other patients at the time was a 16-year-old who was roughly eight weeks pregnant; the teen had been trying to decide whether to continue her pregnancy. After the decision, Beene recalled, “I had to call her and say, you know, hey, if you are thinking about having an abortion, you can’t wait to have that conversation with the OB. You have to go back to the abortion clinic today. And in fact, it might already be too late.”