In a word, the news was “devastating,” said Sam Woodring, the head of communications for Women Have Options / Ohio, relaying the feelings of the group after hearing Friday morning that the U.S. Supreme Court had reversed Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nearly 50 years ago.
“We’re obviously devastated,” Woodring said. “It’s hard to watch.”
WHO/O is a statewide abortion fund in Ohio now based in Columbus and founded in Granville three decades ago. The fund provides partial or full coverage of abortion procedures, including travel costs for those who can’t afford the trip to one of the few clinics in Ohio. For WHO/O, this includes a patient navigation program that helps with child care, transportation, and employment needs of women who choose to have an abortion.
“We want people to know that abortion is still legal in Ohio,” interim executive director Maggie Scotece said, regarding the news from the Supreme Court. “If you have appointments, keep them.”
Scotece said WHO/O is here to stay. “We’re not going anywhere and we will continue to fight for abortion access.”
Ohio was not among the states that had a “trigger law” in place to ban abortion immediately upon reversal of Roe v. Wade. But within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision, Ohio enacted the “heartbeat bill”, a six week ban on abortion in the state.
A “heartbeat bill” bans abortions after six weeks of gestation, or the typical time it takes to detect a heartbeat in the fetus. It was approved by the legislature but had been contested in courts since 2019.
At about 11 a.m. after SCOTUS’ decision, Attorney General Dave Yost filed a motion in court to proceed with enacting the law. In a tweet at 6:09 p.m. on Friday, Yost announced that “the Heartbeat Bill is now the law.”
The Supreme Court decision came on Friday morning, after a 6-3 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The case was centered on a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy – earlier than had been permitted under the Supreme Court’s previous decisions.
A WHO/O meeting in Granville more than a week ago began with a group of women anxiously checking their phones every few minutes and refreshing their news feeds. They were in the founder’s home in Granville, and concern was building.
It was June 15, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s recess by June 26 was drawing closer, meaning that a decision could come any day about the future of Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision that legalized abortion nearly 50 years ago.
“If you see Sam running out of the room on the phone, just know that we are responding to the release of Roe v. Wade opinion,” said Scotece, about Woodring, who was holding a camera while checking updates.
For anti-abortion advocates, a draft leaked in May of a new Supreme Court opinion that could overturn Roe v. Wade, was cause for hope. For members of WHO/O, it was disheartening news, but also news that increased members’ resolve to expand resources for women.
WHO/O began 30 years ago in a Granville living room but is now based in Columbus after growing beyond Licking County. Scotece said the organization employs four people and is hiring two more during the summer.
To make the organization’s purpose more clear, members are going to rebrand. “We want folks to know how to find us, and know exactly what we do when they contact us,” Scotece said. The new name: Abortion Fund of Ohio.
Most recently, WHO/O fought an abortion ban enacted by the city council in Lebanon, in southwestern Ohio. WHO/O was represented by the ACLU of Ohio and Washington-based Democracy Forward as leading plaintiffs in a lawsuit, in which they entered a stipulation agreement at the end of May.
Lebanon officials said they would amend the ordinance and would not enforce the ban. Jordyn Close, the WHO/O board chair, said that similar bans have appeared in Texas cities.
“We said not in Ohio. We’re not doing that here,” Scotece said.
In 1992, WHO/O got started when Emily Rutherford said she helped fund a friend’s abortion. Afterward, she decided to call a friend and get a group of women together who would be able to help more people.
“There were about 10 to 11 people in the living room,” Rutherford said. From then, it became an organization. They helped three people in the first year and raised $5,000 in funds to support WHO/O’s future. That budget had grown to $725,000 by 2021, supporting the staff and the needs of women who seek their help. Donations come in the form of monthly contributions, donations at fundraising events, and in sums from foundations.
In an interview a few weeks ago, Susan Richardson leaned in when the conversation turned to the anticipation of Roe v. Wade possibly being overturned.
On May 2, the news organization Politico had released a story about a leaked draft opinion of the Supreme Court that would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
“It makes me so angry to think that anyone can tell me what to do with my body,” Richardson said.
She and Judy Stansbury are original members of WHO/O. They attended meetings, and listened to phone messages to perform intake.
Stansbury and other volunteers took messages from WHO/O’s answering machine to fill out forms and provide information to women seeking services. “Even then, it was very critical that it was done early, and so that was always something that we had pushed on heavy,” Stansbury said.
“I’m sure everybody was always treated with respect and outreach of hope and care,” Stansbury said.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, a reported 20,605 abortions were performed in the state in 2020, the latest numbers available from the state. The number of abortions in Ohio has decreased by about 720 per year on average, the department reported.
Rutherford’s own experience with abortion was a motivating factor in forming WHO/O. She chose the procedure while living in Massachusetts, where it was still illegal at the time. “I had five children under 6, and when I became pregnant again, then I had an abortion,” Rutherford said.
“One person with one idea can make a huge change,” Richardson said, noting Emily Rutherford’s leadership in WHO/O.
“I’ve been doing this work for eight or nine years now. Everybody has a connection,” Scotece said. “Everybody has a story about abortion, even if they don’t know it.”