Ohio's 20-Week Abortion Ban Needs More Attention

by Lani Seelinger

John Kasich made a play to appeal to a middle conservative ground today when he signed a 20-week abortion ban into law in Ohio and vetoed the much-discussed and very controversial heartbeat bill. Whereas the so-called heartbeat bill would have banned abortions from the moment that fetal cardiac activity could be detected, or around six weeks into the pregnancy, the 20-week ban is based on the idea that fetuses can supposedly begin to feel pain at that time. This reasoning hasn't been unanimously backed by science.

The anti-choice activists dismayed at Kasich's decision have less reason to be upset than the pro-choice side and women everywhere. The heartbeat bill, Kasich knew, would not have made it through the courts, and he claimed that it would cost Ohio taxpayers too much to defend it. Couched in the language of saving money, however, there is cold calculation. Kasich must know that where the heartbeat bill would have failed, the 20-week ban actually has a chance of challenging Roe v. Wade. And anyone who is concerned with keeping a woman's right to choose intact and constitutionally protected should be equally as worried about the bill that Kasich did sign as about radical bills like the one that he chose to veto.

Although it seems like a welcome concession when the other option is effectively a six-week ban, the 20-week abortion ban is actually quite radical in its own way. It has an exception to save the life of the mother, but it doesn't include exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Any physician who chooses to help a woman who wants an abortion will face felony charges and prison time. The law ignores research that has been done on the subject, which found that it is highly unlikely that fetuses feel pain before 29 or 30 weeks, and it also ignores the fact that abortions after 20-weeks almost always happen because of a medical crisis or the discovery of a fetal abnormality. With this law in place, a woman who finds out after 20 weeks that the fetus had a fatal complication would still have to carry it to term — a situation that has happened before, with terrible effects on the mother.

The worst part of the new law, though, is that anti-abortion groups have effectively designed it to be a challenge to Roe v. Wade . If the Supreme Court were to take it up, it could chip away at that precedent and possibly even lead to it being overturned. In fact, more politically-minded groups like Ohio Right To Life, for example, knew exactly what they were doing — trying to pave the way for the end of legal abortion in the United States. And that's something pro-choice activists, as well as women around the nation, could have to fight in the upcoming months.