Ohio’s GOP-controlled House passed a bill to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or as early as six weeks before many people even know they’re pregnant. In a 58 to 35 vote Thursday, the House sent the measure to the Senate.
Gov. John Kasich (R) already vetoed the bill once in 2016, while signing a 20-week abortion ban into law, and said he’ll block the six-week ban again. But the Ohio legislature might have enough votes to overturn a veto this time around. Either way, the lawmakers will try again next year, according to Jessie Balmert’s reporting for the Cincinnati Enquirer, as the Governor-elect Mike DeWine (R) promised to sign the measure when he’s in office.
Ultimately, anti-abortion lawmakers hope the measure is challenged in court so they can appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court, where newly-appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh will be the fifth critical vote, likely approving the law and thus triggering a challenge to the constitutional right to abortion. Roe v. Wade affirmed that no state can ban abortion before the fetus is viable and the medical community determines this at around 24 weeks gestation.
“We literally crafted this legislation to be the arrow in the heart of Roe v. Wade. It is made to come before the United States Supreme Court,” said the bill’s author, Janet Porter. (She also worked on Roy Moore’s Senate campaign in Alabama and defended him against accusations of sexual misconduct with teen girls.)
— Gabriel Mann (@OhioGabe) November 14, 2018
Should Ohio’s “heartbeat bill” (H.B. 258) become law, providers who perform an abortion “before determining whether there is a detectable fetal heartbeat” would be charged with a fifth-degree felony. The bill actually prevents doctors from helping patients unless giving birth could threaten the patient’s life or lead to a “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” Studies show exemptions don’t actually work in practice.
“Before 6 weeks, it can be hard to tell if a patient has a pregnancy complication, like an ectopic pregnancy — a pregnancy developing outside the uterus. This bill would make it difficult for clinicians to care for patients experiencing ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, professor at the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, on Twitter.
“In the event of an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, I wouldn’t be able to help until it becomes life threatening. Waiting to intervene would put a patient at risk the ectopic rupturing, or continuing a painful miscarriage, and put a patient at risk of heavy bleeding & infection,” he said in a follow-up tweet.
Ohio is effectively banning all abortions statewide, as a heartbeat can be detected sometime between the 5th and 6th week after the last menstrual period. Patients usually don’t know if they’re pregnant until week four and might need a week or two to decide whether to continue the pregnancy or to terminate. This wouldn’t only affect Ohioans, but people who travel to Ohio for abortion care from nearby states. Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio’s Cincinnati clinic, for example, saw a 12 percent increase in patients travelling from Kentucky between 2015 to 2016.
“Today’s passage of an abortion ban in the Ohio House of Representatives is part of a broader strategy by anti-abortion politicians to push abortion care out of reach state by state, and is unfortunately a harbinger of what’s to come once anti-abortion state legislatures gavel back into session in 2019,” said deputy director at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, Brigitte Amiri, in a statement.
“This is also one of the first legislative attempts that takes direct aim at the constitutional right to abortion after the Supreme Court’s recent changes. The ACLU’s response if the Ohio bill becomes law? We’ll see you court.”
The ACLU is currently challenging another pre-viability abortion ban in a district court this week; it’s one of at least a dozen anti-abortion measures being teed-up to challenge Roe under a more conservative-leaning Supreme Court. The question is, which will the Supreme Court hear arguments for?
Kentucky is trying to ban a type of abortion procedure. While courts in the past have found Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) procedure bans unconstitutional, the feeling now among many within the anti-choice movement is that the Supreme Court will uphold them. There’s a similar optimism with “heartbeat” bans, as the Eighth Circuit blocked the one in Arkansas and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2016.
This post has been updated to include a new statement from the ACLU.