Our Bodies, Our Voices: Columbus Women Share Their Thoughts on Abortion Rights

The fall of Roe v. Wade has created a fury that is personal. These 10 essays and stories reflect how Central Ohio residents are feeling.

Sherry Beck Paprocki, Emma Frankart Henterly, Natalie Lucas, the Rev. Deborah Countiss Lindsay, Taylor Swope and Mariam Abaza
"Our Bodies, Our Voices" is a collection of stories and first-person essays in which Central Ohio residents reflect on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe V. Wade.

In the early morning of June 24, I was floating on a ferry in the Atlantic Ocean, watching the sun rise as I celebrated my birthday. It was an insignificant day other than I was older than I’d ever imagined being back when I was 14, the year the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade decision.

Before the sun went down, the highest court in the land officially released the Dobbs opinion, dismantling the landmark 1973 Roe ruling that marked my coming-of-age years and legalized abortion throughout the country. We people with uteruses, rights advocates, health care providers and policy wonks were expecting the opinion, officially called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, since a draft leaked several weeks earlier. The murmurs and concerns turned to shrieks and cries. With one swift action, the highest court in the land rolled back women’s rights by nearly 50 years, sending the question of abortion legalization back to the states.

When it comes to my health care rights, I am 14 again.

Since June 24, many of us have been mining our memories. We have been assessing the freedoms we’ve had and the freedoms we’ve lost regarding our reproductive health. While social media feeds filled with those mourning what they have known as a personal right, others celebrated their political victory; the polarization of America was shown in stark relief.

Privately, an avalanche of memories came for us all. They weren’t red and blue memories, though. They were gender-specific, and they were personal. The steamy fear of pregnancy that accompanies youthful sex, the roommate chats about birth control and the tentative plans made if we were to become pregnant. On the tail end of what had become known as the sexual revolution, in the ’70s we were inhibited only by the looming clouds of parents from a different era and religions that attempted to guide our decisions.

We have kept a lot of secrets for each other. They were about partners, abortions, adoptions, miscarriages and babies born “out of wedlock,” as they used to say. Since the release of the Dobbs decision, those secrets have hit us like a flash flood, requiring weeks to process and analyze and whisper among ourselves. Women of all ages, as well as nonbinary people and transgender men who still have uteruses, have recently shared secrets with friends and colleagues that we never felt we needed to reveal before.

Here’s my story: I was 22, a recent college graduate with a serious boyfriend and a good newspaper reporter’s job, when I went to a Planned Parenthood clinic to find out if I was pregnant. (Over-the-counter tests weren’t widely available or trusted back then.)

“Your test is positive,” the nurse told me at the clinic where I was the only patient in the waiting room that afternoon. “Is there anything else we can help you with?”

“No,” I explained. “We plan to be married.”

There, all alone, I made the very personal decision to have a baby. Many times, I have told people: “You won’t know how you feel about abortion until you are in a room, alone, making that decision for yourself.”

* * *

When I made my choice, I had a good life. My supportive partner had a job two hours away, but he likely would have gone with me to the clinic if I had asked him. My parents paid for a big wedding, and both of our families were enthusiastic about the arrival of our baby. Our marriage has grown over the decades and we have two adult children, their spouses and four awesome grandchildren.

I am lucky, I realize that.

How one feels about abortion often requires an arduous journey—months, even years, spent wading through the fog, sorting through personal choices and public policy. Sometimes, reproductive health decisions are overly influenced by a partner, a religion, a friend. Some who get abortions don’t have the financial wherewithal and the support of family, friends or even society to become parents. Still others have no clear choice in the matter due to the health consequences that a pregnancy and delivery would cause.

Today, after the fall of Roe, many basic, burning questions remain unanswered. There are uncertainties about oral contraceptives; Plan B pills and other emergency contraceptives; embryos fertilized through IVF; IUDs; ectopic pregnancies; and more.

Then there are the political fluctuations: Will the Ohio General Assembly pass a complete abortion ban during its upcoming lame duck session? Could personhood laws, which give fetuses full legal rights, spread throughout the country?

Will women rally during the November midterm elections, mirroring what occurred in the Republican stronghold of Kansas earlier this year when an overwhelming majority voted to keep abortion legal? Back in 1980, when I was 22, I covered the Ohio General Assembly for Thomas Roll Call Reports. There was one female in the Ohio Senate and nine women in the Ohio House of Representatives. Currently, seven of the 33 state senators are female. Thirty-three of the 99 representatives in the Ohio House are women.

Progress toward equal representation is painfully slow.

Perhaps the biggest question hanging over people in this post-Roe world is this: Why do our daughters—many of whom are busy mothers with busy careers—need to worry about having access to birth control, a right that all people with uteruses have taken for granted for nearly five decades?

Thus, this feature is written with a heavy heart. But let me be clear: It isn’t about whether abortion should be legal in the United States. Rather, it’s about giving voice to those most affected by the monumental changes. In stories and essays in this feature package, a courageous group of women step forward to share their personal experiences with reproductive health. Why only women? Because people with uteruses are those who get pregnant, give birth, have miscarriages and have abortions. It’s as simple as that. And their stories reveal the complexities, emotions and rawness of the moment.

Sherry Beck Paprocki edited the “Our Bodies, Our Voices” package. She is a freelance writer and editor.

Procedures performed by age in Ohio in 2021

‘I’m a Mother Who had to Make a Choice’

By Anonymous

On Nov. 10, 2021, I had an abortion. My fetus was diagnosed with trisomy 13, a genetic mutation that is “incompatible with life,” I was told. It would result in either miscarriage, stillbirth or death shortly after birth. It was a circumstance of nightmares.

My pregnancy had been normal until week 13, when it was time for a routine fetal ultrasound. The test began, and we saw that beautiful, now-baby-shaped fetus. Heart was beating, arms were moving. My heart stopped when I saw an area that was not present on my previous two babies’ ultrasounds. The room got quiet and tense. After the tech finished, and what felt like hours, the physician walked in. I could see it in her eyes and immediately knew things were not OK.

“I’m concerned,” she said, and my chest felt as if it were imploding.

She explained there was a “septated cystic hygroma” at the base of the neck, whatever that meant. Many words were spoken, and I tried to stay focused while my body wanted to run away. I asked what she would do in this situation. She immediately recommended a biopsy of the placenta to diagnose chromosomal abnormalities.

We were then escorted to the genetic counselor. She and her trainee explained what this anomaly could mean. It wasn’t good. There was a very high likelihood for either a genetic condition and/or severe structural abnormality of the cardiac, skeletal or nervous system. Some of these conditions were considered “not compatible with life,” I was told. In essence, we were given a 15 percent chance of a healthy, viable pregnancy based on ultrasound findings. In 30 minutes, we went from planning our nursery to an 85 percent chance of a serious abnormality with potentially severe and life-threatening conditions.

Various genetic mutations can affect fetal development.

I held it together until the parking lot. The cry came from deep within my soul. I felt despair, anguish, terror. I’ve seen my husband cry maybe four times over the past decade. This was one of those times.

I had nearly lost a baby at birth, my oldest, our son. He almost died after getting stuck in the birth canal. He required 10 minutes of CPR to be resuscitated. Those 10 minutes were the most terrifying moments of my life. The thought of going through nine months of pregnancy and birth with no chance for survival is an unbearable trauma from which I don’t think I’d recover.

My small children need their mommy. My husband needs his wife.

I was denied insurance coverage for a hospital-based dilation and evacuation—called a D&E— because this was not a “documented case of rape or incest,” and that my “life was not immediately at risk due to the presence of the fetus,” I was told. At baseline, pregnancy is medically risky. These risks continue to increase for someone, like me, who was 35 and had a history of C-section. Also, it is well-documented that the presence of a fetus with trisomy 13 can increase maternal risks, including preeclampsia, which involves high blood pressure that could result in possible kidney and liver damage during pregnancy or immediately after birth.

Let’s not forget the emotional and mental torture of carrying a nonviable fetus.

Ironically, I was not afforded health care access in the same hospital in which I personally provide care to patients as a nurse practitioner. I would have had to pay $8,100 out of pocket for my “elective termination,” I was told. I was denied by insurance as a woman needing basic medical care. I was rejected as a human being needing help. I was cast aside by the medical system, politics and bureaucracy.

Thanks to activists and the rights granted under Roe v. Wade, I was able to access an abortion clinic for my medical care. We drove 90 minutes for the only timely appointment we could get. After a four-hour appointment consisting of lab work, an ultrasound, videos and pamphlets discussing normal fetal development, I signed consent. The state of Ohio required at least 24 hours between signing consent and undergoing the abortion to allow time for a woman to change her mind. It was a 24-hour delay for me to continue to endure this torture, because unsurprisingly, I did not change my mind.

We were harassed and verbally assaulted by close to 20 protesters near the clinic. They were armed with signs, microphones, loudspeakers and their own small children.

“Turn back, this is an emergency!”

“Grab her hand and take her away!”

“We will help you raise your child!”

These are just some of the things I remember were shouted at us as we were rescued by the armed guard. I was not supposed to remember the actual procedure that day, having received sedation. But because I was in such emotional distress, despite being medicated, I was aware and remember the procedure in its entirety.

It felt like punishment, for somehow being responsible that this fetus would never be a thriving human being, punishment for this fetus having a lethal condition, punishment for simply being a woman.

Another four hours and $1,300 later, we left, broken and shattered.

I was so lucky having had access to abortion. Being able to make this decision allowed for me to begin healing much sooner than if I were forced to continue six or seven more months with a doomed pregnancy. The thought of waking up every day, feeling the movement, watching my body change, knowing each day was riskier than the last, knowing any day I could bleed or miscarry, asking if it would happen while I was with my kids, if it would happen while I was at work, knowing strangers or patients (and friends and family) would happily ask about my belly and reach out to touch it. How would I explain this to them, and how could I possibly bear that torture?

There are countless other women with stories like mine, countless other women who need to make their own choice. And there will continue to be women in situations where abortion is what they need to choose; situations that should be determined by that of the woman, with the help of her medical provider. Life can be messy, cruel, ruthless, and people can be disinterested in what laws are passed. These situations in which women will need abortion will happen, regardless of the current law. No one should have the right or authority to dictate someone else’s reproductive organs and bodily autonomy. No one should have the right to force me and my family to endure unbearable pain.

I’m a mother who had to make a choice for my children, to shield them from certain devastation and loss of innocence. That even if they didn’t physically lose their mommy (though that was a definite possibility), they would undoubtedly lose her in every other way.

I’m a human being who has worth and value, and I happen to have a uterus. I’m a woman who deserves understanding, and to not be so callously categorized. I have wishes, hopes, dreams, and I don’t want to be defined by this. Whoever needs to read this to realize there are real people behind abortions, here I am. I will continue to fight for this. And to fight for our daughters’ futures.

➾ The writer of this essay requested anonymity. She is a nurse practitioner working at one of Central Ohio’s largest health care facilities.

‘My Mind Changed in Increments’

By Emma Frankart Henterly

As an adolescent, I was an enthusiastic “pro-lifer.” On my winter coat, I proudly wore a lapel pin designated as Precious Feet, supposedly representing the size of a fetus’s feet at 10 to 12 weeks. I wrote a letter to President Bill Clinton, urging him to ban abortion. I was passionate about what I saw as my duty to protect every life in every uterus of every jezebel who would dare consider murdering her unborn baby, whether it had gestated for six weeks or 36.

Today, I believe that every person deserves equitable access to abortion, and that the government shouldn’t get to limit the medical decisions a person can make. What changed?

No, I didn’t need an abortion myself. In fact, when I had a pregnancy scare in college, I decided immediately that, while I had neither the desire nor the capacity to raise a child, I would prefer adoption to termination. (A belated period made the decision irrelevant.) Until very recently, the only person who I knew had an abortion needed to terminate an ectopic pregnancy that, left unchecked, could have killed her.

There was no huge revelation. My mind changed in increments, small realizations that ultimately led to this: Whatever my personal feelings are about abortion—or any issue affecting bodily autonomy that doesn’t also affect public health and safety—I don’t have the right to impose them on anyone else.

My opinion began changing with cases in which the pregnant person’s life was endangered by the pregnancy. These situations are heartbreaking, but you can’t call yourself “pro-life” if you’d rather see a person die than terminate their pregnancy.

Procedures performed on patients younger than 18 in Ohio in 2021

In short order, my opinion on the acceptability of abortion then expanded to cases in which the fetus wasn’t viable, or when it was certain the newborn would have a short and painful existence before dying. Why force a person to carry a stillborn fetus, or go through the painful (and, I might add, expensive) process of carrying a fetus to term and giving birth, only to watch it suffer and die in their arms within hours or days?

How could forcing a person to go through that be considered the moral high ground?

I held out on cases of rape and incest until early adulthood. And then one night, I found myself alone in a room with a man who wanted something that I very much didn’t. I extricated myself from the situation, but not before he assaulted me. Later, as I grappled with the shame and guilt and countless other complex emotions that my not-quite-a-rape brought up, I realized how unethical it would be to force a person who had been violated even worse than I had to continue a pregnancy that had also been forced upon them.

Then, when I heard the following analogy, my opinion about abortion totally changed.

Say I had an identical twin sister, and she and I were in a bad car crash. What if she was declared brain dead and scheduled to be removed from life support, per her wishes? What if I had mortal wounds and was in desperate need of a vital organ? What if my brain-dead sister was an ideal candidate for donating a vital organ to me? What if she wasn’t a registered organ donor before the accident, though? In that case, taking her organs after her death—even to save my life—would be against the law, because she did not sign an agreement to be an organ donor. In that scenario, I would need to find another donor or die waiting.

It all became quite clear to me. I don’t think a corpse should have more bodily autonomy than a living, breathing person who happens to be pregnant.

I now consider myself firmly pro-abortion. I believe it should be legal and accessible nationwide. I know it’s none of my business who gets one, and it’s not yours, either. The decision to have an abortion, whether it’s painful or easy, should be in the hands of the pregnant person (and in some cases, their partner) and their physician—not an affluent politician who has little to no practical knowledge of the human reproductive system.

➾ Emma Frankart Henterly is the special sections editor for Columbus Monthly.

‘As a Premedical Student, I Understood the Direness of the Situation’

By Natalie Lucas

I received a positive pregnancy test in November 2018. For many women, seeing a double line appear on that test is a joyous, triumphant occasion. For a 19-year-old university student using birth control, seeing it made my blood run cold. It threatened every aspect of my existence—my academics, my reputation, my relationship, even my life.

An IUD, or intrauterine device, is one of the most effective forms of birth control. Fewer than 1 percent of every 100 women using an IUD will become pregnant during the first year of use. I happened to be one of those unlucky few during my sophomore year at Ohio State.

As a premedical student, I immediately understood the direness of the situation. The rare pregnancies that occur with an IUD in place have a high chance of being ectopic, meaning fetal implantation occurs outside the uterus.

No ectopic pregnancy is viable. There is an increased risk of spontaneous abortion, which could be life-threatening for the mother. Left unchecked, an ectopic pregnancy will likely cause the fallopian tube to rupture and could also result in consequent death for the mother.

Treating an Ectopic Pregnancy

I was paralyzed with fear, shame, confusion, disbelief and despair. What would I tell my boyfriend? What would we do if the pregnancy wasn’t ectopic? How was I going to afford the medical care I needed? What was I going to do about finals? And why, in spite of astronomical odds, did it happen to me?

My boyfriend took the news as well as anyone could. We immediately went to the nearest Planned Parenthood office to confirm the result. It came back positive. Through mutual shock and sorrow, we agreed to terminate.

The peculiarity of my case meant I had to make four separate appointments at Planned Parenthood to accommodate my safety and the law: intake, IUD removal, ultrasound and, finally, the procedure. It was finals week, and I had no access to a car. To complicate matters further, they could not find the pregnancy with ultrasound, possibly indicating an ectopic placement.

At four weeks, a developing fetus is barely more than layers of cells organizing themselves along chemical concentration gradients. I was asked if I wanted to hear the beat of an organ that didn’t exist yet. I refused and was sent home to “fully consider my options” for a minimum of 24 hours. For me, that meant paying for another two trips from a rideshare, but for those with more developed ectopic pregnancies, that mandatory waiting period could mean life or death.

I received a surgical abortion to ensure proper termination. I was awake the entire time on minimal sedation to mitigate costs. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt.

I left the clinic that morning in a daze. A group of protesters had gathered outside during my final visit. I stumbled through them, still in agony, as they shouted slogans and morally charged accusations at me. As I climbed into the Uber to head back to campus, I groggily mumbled: “My body, my choice.” An older woman lowered her sign to look at me and replied, “It’s not your choice, sweetheart. It’s not too late.”

I didn’t have long to linger on her words. I had an exam to take that afternoon.

In many ways, I was lucky. I became pregnant with an IUD, making the procedure arguably necessary for my survival and easing the guilt providers are legally required to confer on patients. I had a supportive partner that accompanied me to every appointment. I had a rainy-day fund that allowed me to afford care out-of-pocket, which totaled around $1,600, including travel expenses.

Despite the financial and emotional support, the trauma of undergoing an abortion haunts me to this day. Many women who face this situation do not have the privileges I have. Every other woman I encountered in that waiting room was a young person of color who was there alone.

Recently, I moved to Toronto, Canada, for a medical graduate program alongside the man who accompanied me to every appointment. The decision to move internationally was heavily influenced by this experience. If I ever find myself in such a situation again, I want a health care system that provides safe, affordable and guilt-free care.

I hope those who read my story understand that experiences with abortion are not rare. Anyone you know could have a narrative similar to mine. Access to abortion ensures the health and safety of women in Ohio and all over the world. Although I think about it often, I never regret my decision. My abortion allowed me to live.

➾ Natalie Lucas is a first-year medical illustration student at the University of Toronto in Canada.

Is Birth Control Under Attack?

By Sherry Beck Paprocki

In July, immediately after the Supreme Court dismantled Roe v. Wade, legislation was introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to “codify” a person’s right to use contraception. The bill sponsors want to instill a constitutional right to birth control.

The conversation continues around both pieces of legislation—SB 4557, which languishes in a Senate committee, and HR 8373, which was passed by the House in July. Why is contraception at risk? U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion with the Dobbs decision, suggested that the court could reconsider past opinions related to contraception, same-sex marriage and other controversial topics.

One day after the draft opinion was leaked, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, tweeted: “The #SCOTUS opinion is not just about Roe. Your right to birth control is next. Your right to marry whomever you love is next. All of your rights to make your own decisions about how and when to raise your family are at stake.”

Procedures performed by race/ethnicity in the U.S. in 2019

Most at risk for birth control, perhaps, are medications and devices that prevent a fertilized egg from being implanted into the uterus.

Birth control pills contain either progestin, alone, or a combination of estrogen and progestin. In general, oral contraceptives can do three things: suppress ovulation, prevent the sperm from meeting the egg and cause a change in the uterine wall, making it less likely for a fertilized egg to attach.

However, not all oral contraceptives will prevent all three things from occurring. Any legislation developed around how birth control pills prevent a pregnancy will require legislators to delve deep into the science behind each complex method of oral contraception. A variety of brands and types of contraceptive pills are available.

IUDs (intrauterine devices) are T-shaped instruments that a physician inserts into a woman’s uterus. They are replaced anywhere from three to 10 years, depending on the type. An IUD releases progestin, which can prevent a person from getting pregnant, but IUDs can also prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterus.

For further information about these and other methods of contraception, check out cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception.

‘Science and Faith are Both Divine Gifts’

By the Rev. Deborah Countiss Lindsay

Women are capable of being good, moral decision-makers. It is that simple.

More than a few Americans are under the impression there is only one way to think about religion and abortion, but that could not be further from the truth. The often-expressed view is “all religious people” believe life begins at conception and are against abortion in all circumstances. Not true.

In fact, there are myriad faith traditions and communities with a common conviction that the right to terminate a pregnancy is a decision that should be made only by a woman, with counsel from her physician and others she chooses to lean on. As an individual created in the image of God, a woman has the moral capability, authority and autonomy to determine what is best for her body and pregnancy. My denomination, the United Church of Christ, affirms that “every woman must have the freedom of choice to follow her religious and moral convictions” regarding her reproductive health.

The Rev. Deborah Countiss Lindsay, former pastor at First Community Church

In the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, an amicus (friend of the court) brief was filed with the Supreme Court by 54 groups from a variety of faith traditions, including Judaism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism, African American ministers, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and others. The document outlines the broad spectrum of religious beliefs about when life begins, including a position that it is impossible to know at what moment a collection of cells becomes a human being. The entire brief is worth reading. (It can be found at bit.ly/scotusamicusbrief.)

While there are divergent views about when human life begins, the faith traditions represented in the brief agree it is a woman’s right “to make her own decisions about her pregnancy in accordance with her faith, beliefs, and conscience.” The critical takeaway is this: The person who claims “all religious people are against abortion” is seriously misinformed.

Some examples: Traditional Jewish teaching says a living being is born when the baby emerges from the mother’s body and draws its first breath. Breath—“ruach” in Hebrew—is a sacred element of both Judaism and Christianity. The prevailing view in Islam is the fetus becomes a person 120 days after conception. The notion that life begins at the moment of conception is one—and only one—of many Christian perspectives. 

It’s been said that religion cannot answer scientific questions and science cannot answer religious questions. True. It is my conviction that science and faith are both divine gifts that contribute to deep understanding and human flourishing. They are interconnected; science requires curiosity, determination, intelligence and creativity, which are all gifts of God.

Both science and faith have a role in decision-making about how we live, love and take care of ourselves and each other. That would include a decision about abortion. Questions of what makes for an abundant, flourishing life are complex. The answers are not always obvious; they are profoundly personal, and always have an element of mystery. 

In the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Micah says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” When we differ in matters of faith and conscience, we can, and indeed must, approach with humility and respect the convictions of the other, even as we disagree.

To love one’s neighbor is foundational to virtually every world religion, which means to respect the neighbor, their faith and their tradition (or their adherence to no tradition). To impose one particular religious tenet on everyone is neither just, kind nor humble. It is a form of spiritual brutality. 

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness,” said another prophet, Desmond Tutu, during the fight against apartheid in South Africa. 

As devastating as the times are for advocates of choice (myself among them), I am hopeful. I am hopeful because I trust the sacred energy that animates the universe is working among us in ways we cannot see or understand. The man named Jesus practiced radical equality for all. He understood that life-affirming choices are different for different members of the human family. He respected women and viewed them as capable, autonomous people of faith, second to none in the eyes of God. To that, may people of all faiths—as well as uncertain faith and no faith—together say amen.

➾ The Rev. Deborah Countiss Lindsay is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A former Columbus anchor with WSYX Channel 6 in Columbus, she now holds degrees in theology from Trinity Lutheran Seminary and New York Theological Seminary.

‘Do I Want to be Pregnant While Living in Ohio?’

By Taylor Swope

I can say confidently that the only thing I have ever been certain about is wanting to be a mother. So when Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, and Ohio SB 23 (erroneously called the “heartbeat bill”) became law barely 12 hours later, I was frightened by the one thing I felt to be certain.

Do I want to be pregnant while living in Ohio? Is it safe?

Do I trust that I could receive care here that would save my life while pregnant?

What if I found out while pregnant that I would have to travel to a different state to have an abortion if medical testing revealed the baby would not live past birth?

I imagine there are a lot of nonmothers who hope to be mothers someday asking very similar questions right now as we plan our futures. For me, these questions are especially escalated because I will likely be considered a higher-risk pregnancy due to advanced maternal age. I am 36 now, likely two or three years away from a potential pregnancy.

I also wonder what will happen if my partner and I are not able to conceive a child and will require medical intervention. We don’t yet know the future of in vitro fertilization in Ohio, considering the conversation around “personhood,” the idea that a fetus is defined as a person while in utero and before the age of viability outside of the womb.

I’m aware of my privilege as a white woman, and I am deeply concerned about the possibility of laws being passed that will hurt so many who don’t have a voice or much of a choice.

I have more questions than answers right now. I don’t know how so many things will work out. Maybe I will have my own child someday. Maybe I will choose to adopt. Maybe I will decide to find happiness and peace as an aunt to my siblings’ and friends’ children. Maybe I will do nothing, because I am scared.

All I know with certainty is that I am far less safe as a person with a uterus than I was before June 24.

➾ Taylor Swope is a Central Ohio freelance writer.

‘Women Will Take Care of Things’

By Sherry Beck Paprocki

One day about 30 years ago, Emily Rutherford received a call from a divorced mother of a 2-year-old toddler. The woman was pregnant again, with her former husband, and she was deeply distressed about giving birth and caring for another child.

Rutherford told her she’d talk to some women she knew and get back to her. Instead, she quickly deducted $200 from her personal bank account, drove the woman to the abortion clinic in Columbus and entertained her toddler at COSI while the procedure was underway. Days later, with a friend, Rutherford gathered a group of other supportive Licking County women who eventually started a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Women Have Options, which later became Women Have Options/Ohio.

The group of 10 or so women opened a help line and took turns volunteering to check its messages every day. Probably three women were served in its first year, Rutherford recalls. Uncomfortable being public with their names, the group’s leaders remained anonymous for many years. But they returned calls to women in need, met with women in distress, drove from Licking County to clinics in Columbus, paid for abortions, babysat children and helped in any way they could think. Some early participants have called the service an “Underground Railroad” for women in need of abortions.

The women behind Women Have Options/Ohio were leery about revealing their identities, living in a largely conservative county. “We were afraid of what could happen,” Rutherford says.

Once, a letter filled with a white substance arrived at the group’s P.O. Box inside the Granville post office—and the entire building was shut down for an anthrax scare. Later, it was revealed that the envelope only contained some sort of harmless powder.

For Rutherford, who is now 88, the cause is important. After graduating from college and marrying in 1956, she gave birth to five children in six years. When she discovered she was pregnant a sixth time, she panicked. This was more than a decade before Roe v. Wade became law. Three of Rutherford’s children were still wearing cloth diapers, and she counted the time she spent hanging them on the clothesline outdoors as her one respite during a busy day of mothering small children.

“My husband hung a longer clothesline,” she says, a response she has likely used more than once in her busy life, rearing five children and then as a professional and nonprofit founder.

Birth control pills, introduced in 1950, were first being marketed, and her male doctor would not prescribe them to her, citing her bad varicose veins as the reason why.

After discovering she was pregnant, Rutherford visited several doctors as it was her understanding that if you could find two who agreed that you needed an abortion, then you could receive one. Unsuccessful at finding even one doctor, she finally told her father—a real estate investor in Columbus—the challenge.

Through contacts and research, arrangements were made for her to fly to Puerto Rico to visit a doctor who would do the procedure. “I had to go two times,” she recalls, as there was a follow-up issue after the initial procedure. The second time, both of her parents flew with her.

Perhaps that’s why, today, Rutherford says, “Wealthy women will always be able to get abortions.” Others without money and resources, though, will be continually challenged.

Fast forward to the early 1990s. As Rutherford’s children grew older, she obtained two master’s degrees and worked for a while in social services at Moundbuilders Mental Health Center in Newark. It was a few years after she left that job that she received the call from a former client, the divorced mother of the 2-year-old.

Eventually, Rutherford and other founders wanted to retire from WHO, a volunteer gig, and two newcomers stepped in to take over the organization. A surprise $100,000 donation was given to the organization from the estate of a woman whom Rutherford didn’t even know. The organization, which started growing with grants and other funds, evolved into the Abortion Fund of Ohio, serving women throughout the state.

At the time that Rutherford and others were founding WHO, more grassroots organizations were growing in other states. Rutherford traveled to Bethesda, Maryland, to attend the first meeting of the National Network of Abortion Funds. The existence of a national network will play an interesting role as laws change from state to state, and people needing abortions are forced to travel to get them.

“Abortions are going to continue, and groups like the [Abortion Fund of Ohio] will exist,” she says. “I just think that women will take care of things.”

‘We Needed That Type of Health Care’

By Mariam Abaza

“Either the baby will die inside you at some point or it will die immediately after birth,” the doctor said. After much consideration, Central Ohio resident Kim Sproat decided to have the abortion. 

Sixteen weeks into her pregnancy, doctors discovered that most of the fetal organs had developed outside of the chest cavity, a condition incompatible with life. Sproat was put into an impossible situation: Have an abortion or wait for the fetus to die. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Sproat is concerned that women will not have the same choice she did, instead being forced to carry the baby to full term despite medical issues. 

Sproat had health insurance that covered the costs of the abortion, a surgical dilation and evacuation—also known has a D&E—procedure performed at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital. She and her husband are Muslim and they sought spiritual counseling before moving forward with the procedure.

Sproat, 41, was devastated after the Supreme Court overturned Roe because of her personal experiences with abortion. She experienced infertility issues for many years, suffering from four failed pregnancies before her firstborn child. The first time she was pregnant, her fetus had no heartbeat, and she decided to take abortion medication. 

Due to the challenge of getting pregnant again, she and her husband decided to try in vitro fertilization. That’s when she suffered the loss of the fetus at 16 weeks. A second embryo was implanted, and it was unsuccessful, she says. The third time, she convinced her physician to implant two embryos. She miscarried one of the fetuses; the other survived. Her son is now 6 years old and has a brother who is 4. The youngest child was a surprise, and that left Sproat and her husband to decide the fate of four frozen embryos that remained from the IVF treatment. Eventually, they asked the facility where they were stored to discard them.

“I wanted a baby, a family, and that’s what we were trying to do,” Sproat explains. “We needed that type of health care [abortion] to proceed in our journey. If I didn’t have that health care, I would have had to carry that baby every day, wondering if it was still alive. I would have had hope. That was at 16 weeks; I would have had to go on more than 20 weeks. I would have had to think about going into my appointment wondering if it was dead. That would be horrible. And my social circle would see me getting bigger. They would ask me what I was having, if I was excited. That’s just mentally taxing. Why do I have to put myself through that?” 

Sproat strongly believes the Dobbs decision will lead to a higher rate of abortion-related deaths. Those without money are not able to travel to another state to receive care, especially if they need to pay for child care. They will either not receive the health care they need or they will seek unprofessional care, which she believes will lead to extreme complications.

➾ Mariam Abaza is a senior at Dublin Jerome High School.

‘There Needs to be a Culture Change’

By Mariam Abaza

Ashley Covitz, 19, reacted differently to the decision overturning Roe v. Wade. She is a graduate of Dublin Jerome High School and is currently a sophomore at Virginia Tech. As a freshman in high school she was more abortion-rights, but has gradually become anti-abortion. A large basis of her beliefs is her religion. She is a nondenominational Christian. There have been many examples of unborn children having life and spirit in the Bible, she says. In addition to her religion, a key factor in her morals is her political stance. She serves as secretary of the College Republicans at Virginia Tech and the executive secretary of College Republican Federation of Virginia, and she has aided with multiple Republican campaigns. These factors have greatly contributed to her strong anti-abortion stance, she explains. 

Upon hearing the news of the Dobbs decision, she felt “proud but apprehensive,” she says. “I was very happy that it was no longer a federal mandate and that it returned power back to the state level.” Voices of the people are more heard at the state level than at the federal level, she says. Despite this pride, she was apprehensive that “with the change there would come much misinformation and many broken relationships, because people are so polarized one way or another.” 

She experienced unexpected backlash from family and friends, especially after posting in support of the Roe v. Wade reversal on social media. While she felt worried about the backlash, she strongly believes this is a large step in the right direction for the United States. However, she believes that there is still work to be done. 

“There needs to be a culture change,” Covitz says. “There needs to be more of a change in promoting life in everybody. I think we’ve seen improvement in blatant racism and discrimination, but I also think there needs to be a culture shift. Yes, your baby is born, but you also need to provide for it.” 

There should be a revamping of the adoption system, because there are so many families that are waiting for kids and so many kids that are struggling in the foster system, she says. “I am very happy about where Ohio is at this time, but I do think there needs to be more involvement at the federal level, not just focusing on the birth but focusing on the life.”  

As for Ohio SB 23, “I agree with the bill because I do believe in pro-life,” Covitz says. While she does think that there should be some exceptions in extreme cases, she believes that this law will prevent excess elective abortions.

‘Maybe This is the Incubator for Change’

By Mariam Abaza

Nazek Hapasha, policy affairs manager for the League of Women Voters of Ohio, explains that Ohio closes a two-year General Assembly period at the end of this year; yet, there is still potential for more restrictive legislation to pass before the end of the year regarding abortions. 

Any bills that were proposed in this General Assembly that are not passed by the end of the year die, and they will need to be reintroduced in 2023. There are bills that have been proposed during this General Assembly that would completely outlaw abortion after conception. It is expected that some laws may pass in Ohio restricting abortion access during the legislature’s lame duck session after midterm elections, she explains.

“The laws passed by the legislature often affect the most vulnerable of people: women that were raped, girls who have been victims of human trafficking, women in abusive relationships,” Hapasha says.

Whoever still wants to get an abortion and has the resources to do so is going to get an abortion, she continues. People who are the most disadvantaged might seek out unsafe ways to either self-perform an abortion or get an abortion from someone who is not certified, putting their lives at risk. 

“Do we really want children coming into the world when the intention of the mother was to have an abortion?” says Hapasha. “Nobody has an abortion unless they’re in pretty desperate circumstances to not have a baby. I think it will cause a lot of harm to women, physically, emotionally and socially.”

Despite the harm that may ensue from unsafe abortions, Hapasha believes there is a bright side. Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, she has seen an increasing number of women advocating for their rights.

“This may be the flame we needed to move people to vote, protest, talk to their legislators, and to be more civically engaged on an issue that they see is vital to their lives,” she says. “I truly think that Ohio legislators did not realize how much people, women especially, across Ohio would be enraged by this. I have seen so many diverse women—rich, poor, Black, white, brown, Republican, Democrat—absolutely enraged by this and willing to do something to make change. If that’s the one positive thing that came out of this, then maybe this is the incubator for change that we needed.” 

Ohio’s Abortion Law

By Sherry Beck Paprocki

Let the litigation begin. Ohio’s SB 23—erroneously titled the heartbeat bill—was signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine in 2019. It, essentially, prohibits abortions after the first sign of fetal cardiac activity, usually around six weeks. Prior to the passage of this law, abortions were allowed in the state up to about 22 weeks of gestation.

Just a few months after DeWine signed the bill into law, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett in Cincinnati issued a preliminary injunction against enforcing it. Barrett said the law imposed an unconstitutional “undue burden” on a woman’s right to obtain a pre-viability abortion.

The judge’s block was in effect early last summer, but the fall of Roe v. Wade reversed that block. SB 23 went into immediate effect when the Dobbs opinion came down in June.

Weeks after the six-week law took effect, at the bequest of abortion-rights groups that were witnessing life-and-death situations among pregnant individuals, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Christian A. Jenkins granted a temporary restraining order against the law, allowing abortions up to about 22 weeks gestation to continue. At press time, the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas granted a request for a preliminary injunction against SB 23, in essence allowing abortions in the state to be performed through the 22nd week of pregnancy while the case is in litigation. Just a few days later, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost appealed the decision. The result: Pregnant people in dire circumstances—for health and safety issues—need to continually check the status of the Ohio law. 

This story is from the November 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.