When Annie Boyle picked up the phone, the woman on the other end wanted to know: What’s going on with the abortion referendum in Ohio?
As a patient advocate at Preterm, a sprawling abortion clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, Boyle is accustomed to confusion over Ohio’s six-week abortion ban, which shortly took effect after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, but is now on hold. “I’m old, I don’t need an abortion,” the woman said over the phone, but she seemed perturbed by the ban.
“Six weeks?” the woman exclaimed, according to Boyle, who recounted the call. “What if I was raped?” »
On Tuesday, Ohioans will head to the polls to vote on Question 1, a proposal to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution. The stakes are high: If the first question fails, abortion rights supporters suspect the Ohio Supreme Court will reinstate the six-week ban. It does not provide exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
“It’s really terrifying to think about. I don’t know anyone who isn’t afraid,” said Sri Thakkilapati, executive director of the clinic. “There’s a sort of moral injury that comes from fighting so hard to provide that care, because you think it’s the right thing — and then not being able to do it and literally having to turning away hundreds of people every week. »
Preterm staff are haunted by memories of the six-week ban, which had been in effect for just under three months before a state court blocked it. The day Roe came down, they only had a few hours before Ohio decided to implement it. They rushed to introduce as many procedures as possible; At one point, a doctor performed an abortion on his knees because he couldn’t grab a stool quickly enough, a Preterm staffer recalled. Senior clinic staff stayed late into the night calling patients and canceling their upcoming appointments.
“Some people were completely devastated – screaming, crying on the phone,” recalls Kelsey Bowman, Preterm’s director of operations. “As empathetic human beings, you’re just like, ‘This is horrible.’ It’s the worst. I have to tell someone they can’t get their care here and they need to leave the state. And then so many people were like, “I can’t do this.” »
A court suspended the ban in September 2022. A year later, the Ohio Supreme Court heard the arguments in the casebut the judges have not yet ruled.
During the months the ban was in effect, abortions fell by 60% among premature babies, Thakkilapati said. After the courts froze the ban, Preterm employees called patients who were still early enough in their pregnancies to seek abortions.
“Many of them had left the state, and those who did not return came back and aborted here,” Thakkilapati said. “They hadn’t changed their minds. They did not want to continue their pregnancy. They were simply forced to get pregnant. »
Premature abortion clinics were among the first legal clinics in the United States: a group of women opened the clinic in March 1974, months before American women gained the right to open credit cards in their own name. Today, preemies normally perform abortions up to 21 weeks gestation and account for between a fifth and a quarter of all abortions in Ohio.
On Friday, just days before the vote, Preterm resumed business as usual. Staff in scrubs worked hard, bringing ginger ale to patients who had just had abortions and helping patients preparing for the procedure lie on couches and under heating pads. Others manned the call center’s phone lines, quietly answering questions about morning-after pills, ultrasounds and periods.
Yet reminders of the referendum were everywhere. The street outside Preterm was littered with at least a dozen signs calling on people to vote for or against Number 1. A handful of protesters crowded among the Number 1 signs and carried their own signs. A woman stood near the clinic driveway with a sign that read, “It’s not too late to change your mind.” Bright yellow posters reading “STOP KILLING BABIES HERE” and “MOMMY LET ME LIVE” were posted near the clinic.
Bellamy Morales, an advocate for premature patients, accessorized her bright blue Taylor Swift cardigan with a shirt emblazoned with the words “Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom,” the name of the coalition supporting No. 1. The stress of the ban — and the risk that it can be expensive. their work – had led Morales, whose pronouns are they/her, to visit a mental health center in the summer of 2022.
Now, Morales said they are “cautiously excited” about Tuesday’s vote. Polls look good for supporters of abortion rights: in October survey58% of Ohioans said they would vote No. 1. But Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 tempered his optimism.
“I want so much for everything to be okay, for it to pass and for me to be able to celebrate with everyone,” Morales said. “But I think that, at least for me, 2016 showed that you’re not really sure: you can do all the projections and think it’s going to pass, but you’re never 100% sure.”
Preemie staff are preparing, both logistically and emotionally, for the possibility that the ban will come back into effect. They are prepared to provide patients with the resources they need to potentially leave the state.
“It’s very nerve-wracking to have to wait,” Bowman said. “But having to make those phone calls again, it’s just a nightmare scenario.”