On Monday, Jessie Hill, the associate dean for research and faculty development at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law, gave a lecture titled “Abortion on the Ballot and in the Courts.” The lecture focused on the history of abortion in both the United States and Ohio law following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. A majority of Hill’s talk emphasized the importance of Issue 1, a potential amendment to the Ohio constitution that would provide explicit protections for individuals seeking reproductive care such as abortions. The event was held in the Community Foundation Theater, with almost 50 students, faculty and staff in attendance.
Associate Professor of History Eliza Ablovatski began the lecture by introducing Hill as a law professor with a background in comparative literature. Ablovatski highlighted Hill’s background in understanding how society and law interact with one another, as well as the relevance of Hill’s lecture to the audience, as members of a liberal arts campus in a conservative state.
Following the introduction, Hill first highlighted a few key facts on abortion, stating that nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, and one-fifth of all pregnancies end in abortion. She added that 65% of abortions occur in the first trimester, before the 12th week of pregnancy, and that an overwhelming majority of people who have abortions are from low income or impoverished households.
Hill further explained the legal history regarding abortion in the United States, from common law to anti-abortion movements in the late 1800s. She outlined the abortion rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s, and the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which federally protected the right to abortion. Hill also described Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which further upheld the decision of Roe v. Wade and established the undue burden standard, which prevented states from enacting excessive obstacles to abortion access. Hill ended this segment of the lecture by covering the Dobbs case, which overruled the previous two cases and returned the power to regulate abortion to the states.
Hill explained that states have their own individual constitutions, which determine state-specific laws. Following the Dobbs case, Hill discussed how the state of Ohio responded with measures such as the Heartbeat Bill, which criminalized abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, an average of six weeks after gestation. The Heartbeat Bill went into effect the day that Dobbs was handed down, but the bill was later challenged in Ohio court after Judge Christian A. Jenkins ruled that the right to reproductive autonomy could be found in the Ohio state constitution. Currently, the Heartbeat Bill is temporarily blocked in Ohio and may be permanently barred if Issue 1 passes in November.
Hill explained that Issue 1 would provide explicit protection for individuals to determine their own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to accessing miscarriage care, purchasing contraceptives and abortion. The issue also specifies that the state may not penalize or criminalize abortion before fetal viability, which Hill said is often determined on a case-by-case basis. Hill ended the lecture with additional resources for reproductive care, such as the Abortion Fund of Ohio and the Ohio Policy Evaluation Network.
After the lecture ended, Hill hosted a Q&A for students to ask questions regarding the history of abortion law and Issue 1. The Q&A lasted nearly as long as the lecture, giving students the opportunity to learn more about the legality of abortion in the state of Ohio and how to discuss the topic with family members.