A Response to the “Heartbeat Bill”: My Letter to Governor John Kasich
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
December 8, 2016
Governor John Kasich:
I am writing you in regard to House Bill 493, the “Heartbeat Bill”, which would ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks of gestation. There are no provisions for cases of incest, rape, or medical complications that put the mother’s life at risk. If this bill becomes law, once there is a heartbeat, no medical facility or clinic could perform an abortion.
I am truly shocked that this bill has passed both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate. But when I learned that this bill was tacked on to a larger bill that addressed child abuse, I just shook my head.
I am currently 33 weeks pregnant with my second child. I’m due in January 2017. Our first child turned three years old this past August.
I’m telling you this because I know what it means to carry the life of a child.
I grew up in a conservative Christian household. We attended a Southern Baptist Church. I went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I memorized Bible verses in the AWANA program. I was quite good at that. When I was finally able to vote in 2000, I proudly voted a straight Republican ticket.
I was pro-life. I thought abortion was abhorrent. Women who had abortions must have been heartless, soulless, and godless. They needed to be saved from making the most dreadful, horrifying mistake of their lives. I believed that the U.S. Supreme Court needed to overturn Roe v. Wade. Only then would we be able to stamp out the evil of abortion across this country.
Abortion is murder. Plain and simple. And murder is a crime.
If she gets pregnant, she should suffer the consequences. If she wanted to have sex, she should have at least been responsible.
If she was raped, she shouldn’t make the child suffer. And are we even really sure that she was raped? Getting pregnant from a rape hardly ever happens.
Yes. I had those thoughts.
It was easy to hold these beliefs because they went unchallenged. I socialized mostly with other conservative Christians. At school, I viewed my classmates who weren’t Christians as “the lost.” They didn’t truly have a working moral compass. They needed to be saved.
And as an evangelical Christian, I should be the person who saved them.
I began my college career at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 2000. During my four years there, I met a lot of different people who did not grow up in the same conservative circles that I did. In conversations, I began to realize that some of my beliefs about social issues (same-sex marriage, poverty, race, abortion) were not automatically echoed and supported by others. I was challenged to think critically about my opinions. I was challenged to support what I believed.
I’m so very grateful for having been challenged.
Because I began to realize that the foundation upon which I was basing my beliefs on many issues was flimsy at best. What I had to support my opinions were soundbites that crumbled under the power of even the simplest of questions. Jesus never talked about abortion. But he sure talked a lot about caring for the poor and loving others. Especially those who were on the margins of society.
And then a thought occurred to me.
Why did I think it was my responsibility to restrict someone else’s choices?
Who was I to decide how someone else lived their life?
Was I so inherently right in my beliefs that what I thought about the world should be imposed on everyone else?
Once I posed those questions to myself, I was ashamed of how arrogant I sounded.
However, I have to admit that all of my changed beliefs about abortion were still vague abstractions that didn’t directly impact my life. I had never been pregnant. Privately, I wondered if being pregnant and giving birth would change my opinion yet again. Maybe I would revert to my pro-life stance of years past?
But I didn’t.
In fact, I am more pro-choice now than I have ever been.
Because now, I understand what it means to become a mother.
Becoming a mother is not strictly a physical test of endurance. It’s a mental and emotional marathon that not only requires sufficient financial resources, but also a social support network. Otherwise, you will completely implode.
My husband and I are firmly established in the middle class, yet we still found the costs of having a child to be quite burdensome. It cost us $3500 just to give birth in a hospital—and we had health insurance. We spent another $12,000 on car seats, furniture, diapers, formula, clothing, medicine, and other supplies. Because I wanted to return to work, it cost us another $11,000 per year for our child to be in daycare.
There were days in that first year of motherhood when I wasn’t sure that I could go on—and I wasn’t worried about the financial aspect. There were days when I wanted to be free of the constant 24/7 responsibility—and my husband and I had wanted this child.
Now, can you imagine being a 20-some-year-old single woman with a high school diploma, taking some college classes part-time while you work a job that might bring in $20,000 per year? That’s the most common portrait of a woman who gets an abortion in Ohio that emerges from the Ohio Department of Health’s 2014 report on induced abortions (p. 9).
Becoming a mother is a huge responsibility and it’s not one that we should force women to take on if they are not prepared to do so. At a time when Republicans want to slash spending on social programs, outlawing nearly all abortions would not only force unprepared, single women into motherhood, it would drive them into years of poverty as they struggle to not only provide for their children, but to do so with increasingly shrinking assistance from the government.
As I review the Ohio Department of Health’s 2014 report on induced abortions, what strikes me most is that the abortion restrictions in House Bill 493 do not seem to respond to the reality of abortion statistics in the state of Ohio. Here are some interesting facts that I gathered from this report:
- In 1976, there were roughly 10,000 more abortions in the state of Ohio than there are today (Figure 1, p. 2).
- Since 2001, the rate of abortions per live births has steadily decreased (Figure 4, p. 5).
- Since 2001, abortion rates have fallen among women aged 15-34. The sharpest decline in abortion rates occurred among women aged 18-19 (15 fewer abortions per 1,000 births) and aged 20-24 (13 fewer abortions per 1,000 births) (Figure 5, p. 6).
- Of the 21,186 abortions performed in 2014, there were only 36 instances of post-abortion complications (Table 10a, p. 26). That means 99.8% of abortions were performed with no medical complications.
- Of all abortions performed in 2014, 53% were performed before 9 weeks of gestation. 31% were performed from 9-12 weeks of gestation. 13% were performed from 13-18 weeks of gestation. Only 2.1% of all abortions were performed after 19 weeks of gestation (Figure 3, p. 2).
- In 2014, 510 abortions were performed after 19 weeks. Of those abortions, only 1 abortion was performed on a viable fetus. The other 509 abortions were performed on non-viable fetuses. (Table 18, p. 39).
In short, in the state of Ohio…
- the number of abortions have decreased
- the rate of abortions has decreased
- complications of abortion procedures are extremely rare
- 97% of abortions are performed before 20 weeks
- after 20 weeks, abortions are almost always performed because the fetus cannot survive outside of the womb.
All of this information makes me question the purpose of the Heartbeat Bill, which now awaits your signature in order to become law.
Is it to decrease abortions?
I doubt it. They’re already decreasing.
Is it to protect women’s health?
Clearly not. Abortions are incredibly safe.
Perhaps passing this law is a moral endeavor?
We should not impose one group’s definition of morality over all residents of this state.
The best conclusion that I can draw is that this bill is purely political. It is a means to appease a vocal and staunchly pro-life segment of Ohio’s population at an opportune moment, presumably to give the U.S. Supreme Court a reason to revisit their decision on Roe v. Wade.
But let’s be honest here.
Many of the people who express such disgust for abortion will never, ever face a reality in which the Heartbeat Bill will ever affect them.
They are men. They are women who would never have an abortion because of their moral opposition. They are women past the age of childbearing. These groups of people can vociferously support anti-abortion laws with no consequence to themselves.
But I am a woman who is affected by this law. I’ve got skin in this game.
As I mentioned before, my husband and I wanted to have a child. We were responsible. We got married, started our professional careers, paid off debt, and made plans for when to have our first child. The importance of my right to have an abortion never occurred to me. After all, we were trying to get pregnant.
But as I held the sonogram pictures from our 20-week ultrasound for our first child, a terrifying thought struck me.
What if we had found out that our child had no brain? Or no kidneys? Or some other fatal abnormality? Would we have been able to have an abortion?
Truthfully, I didn’t know at the time if the state of Ohio had any abortion restrictions.
The thought scared me. That if we had received devastating news at that ultrasound, that my choices about how to deal with that news might be limited depending on where I lived.
I began to realize that, for me, preserving the right to have an abortion isn’t about “killing babies.”
For me, it’s about offering options for the grieving process.
When you already know that your child will not survive, you fall into this quagmire of grief. The last thing that you need is the government telling you what you can and cannot do in order to move through that grief. Some women find comfort in giving birth and holding their child for however long their child lives. Other women find comfort in ending their pregnancies in the womb, so their child will not be born into a short life of pain.
In Christmas 2015, I had to walk through that path of grief. At nine weeks of pregnancy, I watched the doctor show me our silent, motionless baby, floating on the ultrasound screen. No heartbeat. I do not have the exact words for how I felt in that moment. It was an awful feeling of denial, anger, sadness, guilt, and frustration.
I had the choice to either miscarry naturally or to have a D & C.
I waited for my body to miscarry naturally. But it wouldn’t let go.
After a week of carrying death inside of me, I just could not take it anymore. I wanted to move on. I wanted to let go. I was ready to move through my grief. I called my doctor and scheduled the D & C. The procedure was quick and uneventful. I had no complications. In five months, I was pregnant again.
But under this new law, if my baby still had a heartbeat, even if the diagnosis was terminal, I would not have been allowed to choose that same path. I would be forced to bear that grief for as long as my body wanted. Only then would the government be satisfied.
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that all women have a choice. And because of that ruling, no woman is forced to walk a path that she doesn’t want to. No one will make her have an abortion. No one will make her carry her child to term.
In the end, it’s the mother who bears the emotions of her choice. She is the one who cries the tears. Not the advocacy groups. Not the protesters. Not the government. She, alone, lives with her choice.
And with that in mind, I hope that you consider voices like mine above the voices of those who have no personal stake in this issue. Women like me are the ones who will be affected by this law.
I am not a baby killer. I don’t disrespect life. I don’t need to be taught a lesson in personal responsibility.
I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a Christian. I’m educated, thoughtful, responsible, and compassionate. I deserve to be trusted to make my own health decisions.
Please remember that as you make yours.
Dayton, OH 45459