Ohio lawmakers are once again considering a highly restrictive abortion bill, and it has a better chance of passing than it has in years. The proposal would prohibit terminating a pregnancy once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks. When Republicans in the House of Representatives reintroduced the measure on Monday, Ohio's "heartbeat bill" returned — with the governor's support this time.
The state legislature has considered the bill several times before. Most recently, the House and Senate both passed the measure in December but were unable to override a veto from Republican Gov. John Kasich. Kasich said he opposed the bill because it would almost certainly face expensive legal challenges. At the time, Christina Caron of The New York Times called the measure "one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country."
But Ohio's legislature was just one vote short of overturning Kasich's veto, and anti-abortion advocates warned at the time that the bill's fate was far from settled. "We will have a supermajority that is pro-life in both chambers and the next General Assembly that will be sworn in in less than two weeks," Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof told reporters at the time. "And we have a governor coming in who has said he will sign that bill."
The state's new Republican governor, Mike DeWine, said last month on Hugh Hewitt's radio program that he would "absolutely" support the measure. "Planned Parenthood is going to be in the next day, or that day, filing a lawsuit," he acknowledged. "But ultimately this will work its way up to the United States Supreme Court. And they'll make that decision."
If the bill does reach the Supreme Court, it would trigger what reproductive rights advocates have feared since Justice Anthony Kennedy retired last year: a serious challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that guaranteed the right to an abortion.
Many people don't realize they're pregnant until they're six weeks along — and even when they do know earlier, it takes time to find an abortion provider and secure an appointment. That's why critics argue that banning the procedure after six weeks would be the same as banning it altogether.
Chrisse France of Cleveland's Preterm Abortion Clinic told Cleveland.com in December that the heartbeat bill "would essentially make abortion, if not illegal, inaccessible in Ohio." Christina Hagan, the GOP lawmaker who's spearheading the measure, told the paper the same. "This legislation is 100-percent crafted to be an arrow that goes at the heart of Roe v. Wade," she said. Ohio Right to Life released a statement in December declaring that the bill is "the next incremental approach to end abortion in Ohio."
Iowa has also battled over a "heartbeat bill" recently. After its own legislation passed last spring, it was immediately challenged in court by Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Emma Goldman Clinic. The measure was temporarily halted in June and then declared unconstitutional by a state judge last month.
If Ohio's bill does become law and is upheld by the Supreme Court, it would "radically change what the legal landscape is for bodily autonomy, for abortion rights, for privacy rights," NARAL Pro-Choice's Kellie Copeland told Cleveland.com. "It could be really far reaching beyond even Ohio."