Donald Trump

Emboldened by Trump’s victory, abortion foes vow ‘onslaught’

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. Last week, Ohio lawmakers passed the "heartbeat bill," a ban on abortions after a heartbeat can be detected. Andrew Spear/The New York Times

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Christina Hagan, the youngest woman in the Ohio Legislature, received a surprise last week. The toughest piece of abortion legislation in the country — a bill she had championed for years — suddenly passed.

The measure, which would ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks, was long presumed dead. But now that Donald Trump is headed to the White House, the political winds have changed, and it passed with overwhelming majorities.

So did a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks. Neither contains exceptions for rape or incest. Now Gov. John Kasich — a Republican who is an ardent abortion opponent and onetime challenger to Trump — is weighing whether to sign one or both.


“President-elect Trump has drastically shifted the dynamics,” said Hagan, 28, a Republican who has served in the Ohio House since 2011. “I honestly could not have foreseen this victory a week or a month ago.”

The effects of Trump’s victory are only beginning to be felt. But one of the biggest changes is playing out in abortion politics. From the composition of the Supreme Court (Trump has promised to nominate staunchly anti-abortion justices), to efforts on Capitol Hill to enact a permanent ban on taxpayer-financed abortions, to emboldened Republican statehouses like the one in Ohio, combatants on both sides see legalized abortion imperiled as it has not been for decades.


That includes, they agree, the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion decision, during the Trump presidency.

“This is the strongest the pro-life movement has been since 1973,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, and chairwoman of a coalition of opponents of abortion that worked to elect Trump. “We are dealing now with a president who has not been playing the game in the way that other presidents, including Republicans, have.”

Trump was elected after a decade of anti-abortion gains in state legislatures; Ohio is the 18th state to adopt a 20-week abortion ban, though two such bills, in Arizona and Idaho, did not survive constitutional challenges in federal court. States that preserve rights, like New York and California, are increasingly rare.


“I think we are standing on the precipice of a really dark time,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She said Trump had “zero mandate” to roll back Roe, and her group would fight back hard; its fundraising and membership are up.

On Monday, the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life is scheduled to release a 135-page report describing what it calls “horrific abortion clinic conditions” in 32 states. Clarke Forsythe, the group’s acting president, said the report was intended to be “an inspiration to state legislators” to enact new restrictions, and as a “rebuke to the Supreme Court’s tragic decision” to strike down a far-reaching Texas anti-abortion law in June.


Rep. Christina Hagan, 28, is the youngest female representative in state history and supports the “heartbeat bill.”

In Texas, where abortion foes are still bruised by that ruling, Republican state Rep. Jonathan Stickland has vowed “an absolute onslaught of pro-life legislation” in 2017. He said Texas also might adopt a heartbeat bill.

Four states — Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota — have adopted “trigger bans” that would automatically make abortion a crime if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving it to the states to decide on the legality of abortions. Strickland predicted that states would start “filling up the pipeline” with anti-abortion bills.


Others are more cautious.

“Instead of getting swept up in Trumpmania, let’s be realistic and continue the incremental approach,” said Michael Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, who pushed for Ohio’s 20-week ban. “Just because a Republican president appoints a justice doesn’t mean that the court will fall our way.”

In Tennessee, a grand jury recently issued new felony charges against a woman charged with trying to abort her 24-week-old fetus with a coat hanger — a case that abortion-rights advocates are citing as a throwback to the era of back-alley abortions.

Only four of the state’s 95 counties have abortion clinics. Now, said Allison Glass, state director of Healthy and Free Tennessee, a coalition of reproductive rights groups, advocates fear “a really extreme abortion ban.”


Trump’s emergence as a potent ally of the anti-abortion movement is a surprise. Dannenfelser said she opposed him during the Republican primaries but mobilized 800 volunteers to work for Trump in the general election after he committed in writing to her group’s four top priorities — a letter she called “probably the most valuable piece of paper we’ll ever have.”

Those priorities include putting anti-abortion justices on the Supreme Court; passing a national 20-week ban like Ohio’s; eliminating federal money for Planned Parenthood as long as its clinics perform abortions; and making permanent the Hyde Amendment, passed annually by Congress to ban taxpayer-funded abortions.

“This is an attack on every single front,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a longtime defender of abortion rights. She predicted a “fierce battle,” beginning the day after Trump’s inauguration, when thousands of women are expected to march on Washington.

In Ohio, just about everyone seems surprised that the heartbeat bill passed. It would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected, usually between six and eight weeks, which is often before a woman even knows she is pregnant and is far earlier than any law on the books in the United States.

Mainstream anti-abortion advocates opposed it on the grounds that it would never survive a court challenge (similar laws were struck down in North Dakota and Arkansas) and could mean a setback for their broader strategy of weakening one of the pillars of American abortion jurisprudence: the definition of medical viability of the fetus, currently understood to be about 24 weeks.

“Every political adviser I spoke to told me not to carry this,” Hagan said Thursday, the last day of the state’s legislative session. “They said: ‘That’s a lightning rod. Don’t touch it.’”

The patient check-in area at the abortion clinic Preterm, in Cleveland, Ohio.

For years it foundered. Janet Porter, president of Faith 2 Action, an anti-abortion group, tried many things to get it passed. She sent lawmakers teddy bears, roses and heart-shaped balloons. She reserved parts of the Statehouse for prayer meetings and rallies. She rented a small plane to fly overhead and drag a banner urging passage. Nothing worked.

But the election changed the calculus. On Tuesday, the bill popped up on the schedule, folded into other legislation at the last minute. Opponents were shocked.

“There were no hearings. No legislative process at all,” said Gabriel Mann, the communications manager for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. “Just all of a sudden, hey, this bill is back. And boom, it passed.”

Even supporters were surprised.

“All of a sudden we discovered that, yes, lo and behold, we have life,” Timothy E. Ginter, a Republican state representative, said. The first he heard the bill would be considered, he said, was the day it passed. “The heartbeat bill had a heartbeat,” he added.

Kasich has signed 17 anti-abortion measures since taking office in 2011, Mann said. During that time, the number of abortion providers in the state has been cut nearly in half, to nine from 16.

Both bills, though overlapping, in theory could be signed into law. But many abortion supporters say the heartbeat provision is less likely to survive an immediate legal challenge, and thus a harder sell for Kasich.

Clinics are worried. On a gray Friday outside Preterm, the largest abortion provider in Ohio, which is in suburban Cleveland, a protester yelled at people going inside. A few placards with pictures of babies were propped up against metal lawn chairs dusted with snow.

“Our phones have been ringing off the hook, primarily with the simple question: Is abortion still legal in Ohio?” said Nancy R. Starner, director of development and communications for Preterm. She said the calls had started the day after the heartbeat bill passed.

Angel Rucker, director of clinical services for Preterm, said 20 weeks was roughly the time when ultrasounds determined fetal anomalies.

“It’s very scary,” she said of the new legislation. “I’m quite concerned for women.”

After winning election, Trump told “60 Minutes” that if Roe were overturned, some women seeking abortions “might have to go to another state.” But Peggy B. Lehner, a Republican state senator in Ohio and the principal sponsor of the legislation calling for a 20-week abortion ban, said that would “create chaos.” She wants abortion banned outright. But the closer that moment comes, she said, the fiercer the abortion rights resistance will get.

“Abortion has been part of our culture for the last 50 years,” Lehner said. “It’s not just going to go away.”


Sabrina Tavernise reported from Columbus, Ohio, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington.