“There have been decades and decades of people working, working, working to make what happened in June a reality,” she says a month later in her office, situated in the back of a brightly lit thrift store in Old Brooklyn called Treasures For Life. Around her, dozens pamphlets, donation sheets and a poster say, “RESPECT ALL HUMAN LIFE.”
“We’re used to being patient,” she says. “We’ve been waiting for 49 years for Roe to go into the trash heap of history.”
For Pro-Choice Ohio executive director Kellie Copeland, June 24 was the realization of a nightmare. Through the spring, she had been developing a quiet strategy with fellow activists. She had amped up newsletters detailing the consequences if the block on the “heartbeat bill” — which limits abortion access to about six weeks after conception — was lifted. She had created a virtual town hall called Ramp Up For Repro to mass educate the newly fired-up.
But still, Roe fell. “It’s jarring,” Copeland says.
Although Jan. 22, 1973, made abortion legal before fetal viability — when a fetus can survive outside its mother’s womb, usually at 24 weeks — anti-choice activists had been working gruelingly to topple the freedom. The Christian Right’s Moral Majority has long been credited with former President Ronald Reagan’s 1980 win over Jimmy Carter. But 2011 was the year Ohio-based pro-choicers recall as tough offense by antis. John Kasich, a pro-life politician, was elected governor and anti-abortion bills, usually from red county congressmen, roared into the General Assembly. One, House Bill 78, scrutinized viability testing. Another, S.B. 27, required “fetal remains” be “disposed of through cremation or interment.”
Then, in April 2019, newly elected Gov. Mike DeWine picked up where Kasich left off by signing S.B. 23. But because of Roe’s national standing, 23 was blocked.
Still, Makra, who worked as the director of a crisis pregnancy center in her 40s, knew that if Roe fell, so too would most abortion access in Ohio. “I can’t tell you the number of women who have come out [of the center], saying, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it. I just heard my baby’s heartbeat,’” she says. “It’s really hard to deny the fact it’s a human being after that.”
So, what is a human being? Since June’s Supreme Court decision, the question is now, in its essence, left up to each of the states in the wake of Roe’s disappearance. In July, after a lengthy deliberation, Indiana passed a “near total” ban from conception with some leeway for a mother’s health. In August, a re-energized (mostly) female voter base in Kansas tossed out a strict ban with a 60-40 margin. “We blocked this ban,” a campaigner said after. “Can you believe it?”
Which leaves Ohio. While the November election for the Ohio Supreme Court and governor’s seat looms, both sides are working to either further cement their stances into state law or stop any egregious restriction.
Today in Ohio, women still have the right to abortion care if an “approved physician” verifies no “assumed” heartbeat. After six weeks, a doctor must verify that bringing the pregnancy to term would — and this is what pro-lifers like Makra have an issue with — be a “serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” Ohio code allows five: preeclampsia, cervix dilation, membrane rupture, multiple sclerosis and Type 1 diabetes. (A bad mental health condition? Nope, not covered.)
In July, Ohio made national headlines when a 10-year-old Columbus girl was driven to Indiana (before its ban) for an abortion seven weeks after her mother’s boyfriend impregnated her. The case amplified holes in Ohio’s debate. Copeland found it “jarring” that attorney general Dave Yost claimed the girl would be OK under current Ohio law. On the other hand, Makra, who was once a sex crimes prosecutor in Indianapolis, doubles down on her “hardline” stance. “You can’t just automatically assume that she’s not going to be able to carry that child to term,” Makra says.
“We are pro-life 100 percent of the time,” she adds. “And our position is there is always another way, and that way is to not kill an innocent human being.”
Makra, whose stance echoes that of the 31 other organizations in Ohio’s Right To Life Coalition, says she prays for the passage of H.B. 704, an introduced bill otherwise known as the Personhood Act. It’s exactly what it sounds like.
Meanwhile, Copeland is afraid to show her cards but not her dread. She admits it’s likely — minding the state's “rampant gerrymandering” — that Ohio votes an anti-abortion Supreme Court majority in November. A consortium of pro-choice who’s who are leading a case against S.B. 23, Preterm v. Yost, arguing that the Ohio constitution itself provides a right to bodily autonomy. In late July, Pro-Choice Ohio organizer Hannah Servedio orchestrated a 150-person fundraiser at Lakewood's Mahall’s 20 Lanes — complete with women-led punk bands and abortion tell-alls. Still, Copeland is worried.
“We have dark days ahead,” she says.