How Banning Abortion in the Early Weeks of Pregnancy Became Mainstream

April 18, 2019 AT 7:40 AM

By Sabrina Tavernise

For years, Ohio Right to Life, the state’s largest and oldest anti-abortion group, steered clear of a bill that would ban abortion in the very early weeks of pregnancy — after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The reason was simple. The bill, which would have been the toughest abortion restriction on record, would be dead on arrival once it reached an unfriendly Supreme Court.

But after seven years of avoiding the ban, Ohio Right to Life’s board gathered in an office building outside Toledo in November and voted unanimously to support it.

The reversal is evidence of a fundamental shift in the landscape of abortion in America. The math on the Supreme Court has changed with President Trump’s choice of Brett Kavanaugh last year. And now, in the first legislative cycle after the midterm elections last fall, states are rushing to make changes. Newly confident red states are passing some of the strictest prohibitions the country has ever seen. Blue states are enacting ever stronger protections, like ones for later-term abortions in New York and Virginia.

“Now is our time,” said Michael Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life in Columbus. “This is the best court we’ve had in my lifetime, in my parents’ lifetime.”

In their sights is overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that established a federal protection for abortion in 1973. And many in the movement believe that the so-called heartbeat bill — a ban on abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant — is the way to do it. The bill flies in the face of decades of Supreme Court decisions, like a dare to the American legal system.

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