In May 2019, a number of posts about “heartbeat bills” in various American states circulated on social media. For example, a rumor about Georgia (archived here) subsequently appeared that proposed legislation would purportedly ban birth control pills and IUDs.
and this is what is on the table in ohio pic.twitter.com/3kIwG5vSeY
— rachel syme (@rachsyme) May 8, 2019
As with a claim involving similar proposed legislation in Georgia, the tweet included a screenshot snippet of an unlinked article. The excerpt was from an article published by Ohio’s Statehouse News Bureau on May 7 2019, “Ohio Legislature Considering An Abortion Bill That Is More Restrictive Than The ‘Heartbeat Bill,'” about Ohio House Bill 182 (full text here), which was sponsored by state representative John Becker. In its original context, the screenshot (italicized below) was part of commentary from Becker and a NARAL representative opposing the bill:
One fifth of the representatives in the House have signed on to a bill sponsored by Republican John Becker that would prohibit most insurance companies from offering coverage for abortion services.
The bill would ban nontherapeutic abortions that include “drugs or devices used to prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum.”
And Becker says the bill also speaks to coverage of ectopic or tubal pregnancies where the fertilized egg attaches outside of the womb.
“Part of that treatment would be removing that embryo from the fallopian tube and reinserting it in the uterus so that is defined as not an abortion under this bill,” Becker explains.
“That doesn’t exist in the realm of treatment for ectopic pregnancy. You can’t just re-implant. It’s not a medical thing,” says Jaime Miracle, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
She says, under this bill, women would have to wait until their very lives were in danger to get an abortion in the case of an ectopic pregnancy.
“This bill will have grave impacts on Ohio’s infant and maternal mortality rate,” Miracle says.
And she says that’s not all. She says it will ban insurance from covering popular methods of birth control.
“Birth control pills, IUD’s and other methods of birth control like that – the bill states that any birth control that could act to stop a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus is considered an abortion under this bill,” Miracle says.
One applied usage of contraceptive pills and IUDs is “emergency contraception,” as they can be used after sex to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. The language of the bill implies emergency contraception versus standard usage (both of which fall under contraception, not abortion), but Becker seems to be unclear on those nuances. The article goes on to quote Becker’s admission that he is not familiar how contraceptives work:
Becker insists his bill does not target birth control.
“When you get into the contraception and abortifacients, that’s clearly not my area of expertise but I suppose, if it were true that what we typically known as the pill would be classified as an abortifacient, then I would imagine the drug manufacturers would reformulate it so it’s no longer an abortifacient and is strictly a contraceptive,” Becker says.
One of the two controversies involved Becker’s claim that the bill would allow removal of an ectopic pregnancy from elsewhere in the body and re-implanting it in a woman’s uterus — a procedure that does not exist and is medically impossible to perform:
Unfortunately, an ectopic pregnancy cannot be “reimplanted” into the uterus. We just don’t have the technology. So I would suggest removing this from your bill, since it’s pure science fiction.
— Dr. Daniel Grossman (@DrDGrossman) May 8, 2019
Unlike the provision involving ectopic pregnancies, the excerpt in the tweet above was about a muddier issue: the bill’s language about birth control pills and intrauterine devices. House Bill 182 itself appeared to target insurance coverage of abortion specifically (not contraceptives per se), and its introduction states:
To amend sections 9.04, 1739.05, and 5101.56 and to enact sections 1751.95 and 3923.591 of the Revised Code to prohibit insurers from offering coverage for abortion services.
Language of the bill targeted provisions of existing legislation, redefining clauses and provisions affecting insurance coverage of abortions. Its first sections involved contraceptive pills and IUDs, underlined:
(A) As used in this section:
(1) “Nontherapeutic abortion” means an abortion that is performed or induced when the life of the mother would not be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or when the pregnancy of the mother was not the result of rape or incest reported to a law enforcement agency.
(a) “Nontherapeutic abortion” includes drugs or devices used to prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum.
As noted in numerous places above, Becker’s bill was highly problematic due to portions of it that are physically impossible, such as the proposed “re-implantation” of an ectopic pregnancy. The quoted portion were the words of NARAL representative Jaime Miracle, who said that “the bill states that any birth control that could act to stop a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus is considered an abortion under this bill.”
In the quoted and underlined portion of the bill above, it does target “drugs or devices” — contraceptive pills and IUDs — “used to prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum.” However, the article from which the tweet captured a screenshot says that would “prohibit most insurance companies from offering coverage for abortion services,” not necessarily ban them outright.
Overall, important context was absent from both the Facebook post and tweet about Ohio’s HB 182. The language about birth control pills and IUDs did appear, but the lead-in to both the source article and the bill on which it reported noted that its provisions (on which its sponsor was admittedly unclear) purportedly targeted insurance coverage of abortion. Should it pass, it could affect standard usage of both forms of contraception, but the bill itself did not appear to target birth control itself. Nevertheless, Becker’s admitted unfamiliarity with the treatments he sought to legislate did not inspire public confidence.