After the 2016 presidential election, Ohio Governor John Kasich strikes many as an archetypal “moderate Republican.” News flash: he’s not. To be sure, Kasich’s selectively “compassionate conservatism” compelled him to expand Medicaid in his state when many Republican governors and state legislators opted not to in order to express their opposition to the Affordable Care Act. He was also the only GOP presidential contender in 2016 who refused to betray his principles (or, perhaps, set aside his sour grapes) and back Trump, notably refusing to endorse the nominee or even attend the Republican National Convention in Ohio.
But the fact that Kasich seemingly possesses a shred of integrity does not mean he is a friend of progressives or Democrats. Like most Republican governors, Kasich has decimated unions in his state. And on the issue of reproductive rights, Kasich is far from moderate. In fact, he is something of an extremist when it comes to limiting women’s reproductive rights. Notably, half of the abortion clinics in Ohio have closed since he took office.
Yes, Kasich refused to sign an ill-conceived fetal heartbeat bill that would have banned abortion after six weeks of gestation and been unlikely to survive legal challenges. But he enthusiastically approved a measure banning abortion after 20 weeks, with highly limited exceptions for rape, incest, or health of the mother. Significantly, the bill Kasich signed holds “fetal pain” (a highly contested phenomenon that varies from pregnancy to pregnancy) as the benchmark by which to regulate abortion. This is a notable and alarming departure from the Constitutional standard set by Roe v. Wade, which holds that fetal viability outside of the womb, not highly uncertain notions of when and how a fetus experiences pain, must be considered.
It is probably not coincidence that the Ohio law marks a departure from the accepted standard, intended as it is to eventually to undermine or perhaps even lead to the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. Donald Trump has promised to fill Supreme Court vacancies with socially conservative justices receptive to the standards found in Kasich’s bill. Under the right circumstances (say, two to three Trump justices replacing liberals Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer), a case involving a 20-week abortion ban could be the one that fulfills the long-time goal of abortion opponents to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
The 20-week abortion ban is a perfect Trojan horse to strike a devastating blow against reproductive rights because it has some credibility with the 39% of the public that does not identify as “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” Many consider 20 weeks ample time for a woman to decide whether to get an abortion. However, as Emily Crockett of Vox powerfully explains:
But most women don’t seek later abortions because they’re indecisive. Some women discover a medical problem late in a wanted pregnancy. Others want an earlier abortion but face long delays due to barriers like high cost, long wait times, or the difficulty of dealing with an abusive partner.
Most 20-week bans, including Ohio’s, don’t make exceptions for fetal anomalies or other problems — even though many serious issues can’t be detected until a 20-week ultrasound.
That’s what happened to Taylor Mahaffey, who was forced to give birth to a stillborn baby due to the 20-week abortion ban in Texas. Rather than induce labor immediately once doctors knew the baby had no chance of surviving, which would have technically been an abortion, Mahaffey had to wait four days for her baby to die and her water to break. “We cried ourselves to sleep, waiting for him to come,” Mahaffey’s husband Daniel told the Daily Beast. “Eventually she was just screaming at them to get the child out of her.”
Ohio’s 20-week ban doesn’t make exceptions for rape or incest, either, which means a woman who is traumatized by rape would be forced to carry her rapist’s baby to term if she took too long to realize she’s pregnant and process what happened to her.
And Ohio’s health exception is much narrower than Roe v. Wade requires. For instance, if a woman needs an abortion for medical reasons because she has diabetes or multiple sclerosis, she won’t actually be allowed to get the abortion until she is literally sick enough to die or have organ failure.
Given the moral and logistical complexities of all abortions, especially procedures taking place later on in a pregnancy, government is singularly ill-equipped to step in and make reproductive decision on behalf of women. It is difficult to reconcile a passion for small government with the government intrusion that pro-life abortion laws entail. It would be more just and, ultimately, less controversial to advance norms calling for women to make highly personal decisions with those they love and trust to advise them (or by themselves, if that is what they prefer), rather than according to the dictates of ideologically driven politicians and bureaucrats.
The question of when human life begins is highly subjective; ask a dozen Americans, men and women, and you will likely receive multiple answers. Given this ambiguity, the only sound policy is one that allows individuals to choose in accordance with their own values. This argument need not be considered pro-abortion; rather, it is pro human autonomy. If more operated with this level of moral humility, perhaps the culture war would de-escalate and Americans could focus on shared priorities.
Alas, politicians like John Kasich keep the culture war raging by forcing their particular interpretations of Christian morality on others, presenting their way as the only right way of thinking about abortion and reproductive rights. In the name of God, they force women to act as incubators against their will, even when doing so endangers women’s lives or causes them to re-experience terrible trauma after having been raped. This is not the “compassionate conservatism” government Kasich prides himself on. It is paternalistic sexism.
All are entitled to their views on abortion; it takes a profound arrogance for social conservatives to impose their morality on the rest of the country. Pundits and citizens alike should consider whether it makes sense to bestow the term “moderate” upon men like Kasich who advance radical attacks on women’s right to choose according to Roe vs. Wade which, much to the chagrin of social conservatives, still applies.