Ohio Republicans are pushing a measure that would create a new public school curriculum about the “humanity of the unborn child,” with the declared goal of reaching an “abortion-free society.”
The bill, which is sponsored by state Rep. Niraj Antani and currently pending in Ohio’s House of Representatives, would require the state’s Department of Health to design a curriculum that provides detailed scientific information about fetuses and gestation to be taught in science and health classes.
However, the curriculum’s writers would be barred from consulting with organizations that provide abortions. The bill would also ban staff from referring students to abortion services and require school boards to implement the state-designed program.
The measure is especially concerning to abortion-rights advocates as states nationwide increasingly try to crack down on access to and education about reproductive services. Some of those efforts have hit a wall. Ohio’s attempt to ban abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy was blocked last week in federal court. But legislators are trying other tactics to fight abortion as well ― like controlling educational messaging.
The Ohio bill is “seizing various apparatuses of state agencies, state departments, every public school around Ohio” to deliver a “slanted message regarding reproductive rights, regarding abortion, regarding fetal development,” Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist at the ACLU of Ohio, told HuffPost.
Daniels said the bill is “attempted propaganda reflecting one particular viewpoint,” despite some of the measure’s other provisions aimed at improving maternal health and neonatal care.
The bill is not the first of its kind. In 2016, Oklahoma passed a similar law called the Humanity of the Unborn Child Act. A version of that bill failed to pass in Florida in 2017. And Antani introduced an almost-identical bill in Ohio last year, as well.
While the Ohio bill purportedly allows schools to “determine the content of the program’s instruction,” they must do so in a manner that follows certain requirements. Schools would be mandated to provide “accurate, scientifically verifiable” details about how “the unborn child” changes during each week of the gestational period. They must also provide instruction on accessing prenatal health care, and they are barred from teaching anything that does not comply with the bill’s provisions. Finally, the measure bans school staff from referring students to facilities to receive an abortion.
The bill also requires the Health Department to create a public service announcement that “clearly and consistently state[s] that abortion kills a living human being.”
“When you learn that a baby’s heart beats at six to eight weeks, the fingernails form at 10 weeks, at 20 weeks pain is felt, that will help create a culture of life,” Antani said in a June hearing, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Antani declined to comment to HuffPost.
The department would also be required to create a database of agencies that provide services for pregnancy and childbirth, and encourage women seeking help to turn to organizations that are “willing and able to help you carry your child to term.”
“It’s important for people to know the science behind fetal development,” said Jamieson Gordon, the communications director of Ohio Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization. “The average person just doesn’t know that much about the unborn child in the womb.”
But critics say the bill is designed to bring anti-abortion talking points into classrooms.
“Extremist politicians want to bring their anti-abortion agenda into our schools,” Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio’s Lauren Blauvelt-Copelin told HuffPost in an email. “House Bill 90 is another destructive measure masked as an educational curriculum. Our young people deserve inclusive education about their health, which includes the choice to access safe and legal abortion.”
Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect that Lauren Blauvelt-Copelin was speaking in her capacity as vice president of government affairs and public advocacy for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio.