What are Ohioans’ options under new abortion restrictions?

With Ohio’s handful of abortion clinics severely restricted and potentially threatened with closure, options for people seeking to end their pregnancy are limited — but not necessarily out of reach.

Nothing in current Ohio law prohibits traveling out of state for an abortion or criminalizes having an abortion elsewhere, said Jessie Hill, professor of law at Case Western Reserve University.

“You can never control what some prosecutor is likely to try, but it is my understanding that that conduct is not forbidden under Ohio law,” she said.

In general, Ohio’s laws against abortion target the providers of those services, not the people who receive them, Hill said.

The “Heartbeat Bill” criminalizes performing an abortion after the first five or six weeks of pregnancy. Similarly, the “Born Alive” bill passed late last year penalizes medical personnel who don’t take extensive measures to keep alive an infant born after an attempted abortion.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio is still providing medication and surgical abortions up to six weeks’ gestation, said Iris Harvey, the group’s president and CEO. For those who may have already passed that mark, Planned Parenthood can still help, she said.

Patients can receive ultrasounds to determine how many weeks along they are, and if it’s more than six, Planned Parenthood has trained “navigators” who will help match them to clinics in other states, she said.

“We encourage patients to come in, let us do the work for them,” Harvey said.

But that is a complex process, since every state’s laws are different and clinics offer different services, she said. Differences include mandatory waiting periods, required pre-abortion education and limits on medical procedures.

Travel help

The YWCA is a resource for women in poverty, experiencing domestic violence or sexual violence, said Shannon Isom, president and CEO of YWCA Dayton and a member of the Antioch College board of trustees

The organization is stockpiling pregnancy tests and Plan B, and preparing to help women get to other states for services, Isom said.

Dozens of major companies, from Amazon to Zillow, announced they will pay for or reimburse travel expenses for abortion-related medical care. Some are also paying for those medical costs or covering them under employee health insurance. The firms include many with large numbers of employees in Ohio.

Several national nonprofit groups have also announced or reiterated their willingness to help pay for individuals’ travel or abortion services.

Planned Parenthood works with abortion funds to help cover some of those costs if necessary, Harvey said.

But there’s also the issue of whether the patient can take the time to drive out of state. Clinics in Illinois or Pennsylvania can be a one-day trip, but gestational progress and legal limitations might require traveling further, Harvey said.

Kentucky and Michigan have abortion bans as strict or more so than Ohio’s, which also went into effect with the overturn of Roe, but judges in both states have blocked their enforcement for now. Both court actions were due to lawsuits by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. On Friday, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected a request by those groups to block the Heartbeat Bill’s enforcement here.

Medication options

The drug Levonorgestrel, known as the “morning-after pill” and often sold under the brand name Plan B, is an emergency contraceptive that can be bought in stores or online without a prescription.

“That does not involve abortion, and that is not illegal” Hill said. “There’s nothing in Ohio law that could be read to forbid accessing that.”

But the “morning-after pill” is distinct from the medications Mifepristone and Misoprostol, a two-drug combination that ends pregnancy if taken within about the first 10 weeks of gestation.

“That is considered an abortion, so it is regulated like abortion,” Hill said. It would fall under the standards of the Heartbeat Bill, limiting its use to the first five or six weeks of pregnancy, she said.

In many places medication abortion is available from Planned Parenthood, other health clinics and doctors. In some states it’s available by mail via telehealth, but in Ohio the drugs must be dispensed in-person by a physician, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.