Ohio House Passes Heartbeat Bill

click to enlarge Ohio House Passes Heartbeat Bill
Republican Ohio State Rep. Christina Hagan, Ohio House of Representatives

The Ohio House of Representatives today passed one of the nation's strictest abortion restrictions. But even if the Senate passes it as well, it could face a veto by Gov. John Kasich.

House Bill 258, sponsored by Republican State Reps. Christina Hagan and Ron Hood, would make it a fifth-degree felony to administer an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can be as soon as six weeks after conception. The legislation doesn't make exceptions for rape or incest, a fact opponents pointed to in order to illustrate their stance that the legislation is too extreme.

The bill passed 58-35 — just shy of the 60-vote margin to protect it from a Kasich veto.

If Kasich doesn't veto it — or if it comes up again next year — the law could become part of a much larger battle around abortion access. Under the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, women have a right to abortion access prior to fetal viability, generally accepted to be the point at which a fetus can live outside the mother's womb. But abortion opponents have argued — so far unsuccessfully — that an earlier milestone — a heartbeat — should be the cutoff for terminating a pregnancy.

“It gives a more consistent and reliable marker for the courts to use to determine the validity of a human baby,” Hagan said today. “We know that when a heartbeat stops, we’ve lost a human life.”

Recent federal court decisions have blocked laws that ban abortions simply because a heartbeat has been detected.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed a heartbeat bill in 2016, saying it likely violated the U.S. Constitution under Roe v. Wade. Instead, Kasich signed a law banning abortions after 20 weeks.

In the years prior, Arkansas and North Dakota lost federal court battles over similar laws to the one currently before the Ohio House. In the Arkansas case, a federal appeals court struck down the law banning abortion after 12 weeks because it would “prevent a woman’s constitutional right to elect to have an abortion before viability.”

A federal court in North Dakota issued a similar ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up appeals from both states on the lower courts' rulings.

But all that was prior to the election of President Donald Trump, who has appointed two conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court whom some experts say may be willing to overturn or significantly amend Roe v. Wade.

Past fights over the heartbeat bill in Ohio were also prior to the Nov. 6 election, when current Republican Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine won the governorship. DeWine has indicated he would sign a heartbeat bill when he takes office in January. In the meantime, it's unclear if Kasich will veto the current legislation.

A similar law passed by the Iowa state legislature this summer is tied up in legal battles — ones that some of the measure's supporters actually hope ends up with the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The science and technology have significantly advanced since 1973," said Republican Iowa State Rep. Shannon Lundgren about the state's law. "It is time for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue of life. It has taken decades for the science to catch up to what many have believed all along: that she’s a baby."

Supporters of Ohio's bill have expressed similar sentiments.

"This legislation is aimed at the heart of Roe v. Wade," Hagan said of an attempt to pass a heartbeat bill through Ohio's House last year.

Democrats today blasted the bill.

"It’s shameful that Ohio Republicans continue to try to dictate, control and direct the lives of women and their families,” said Democratic State Rep. Catherine Ingram of Cincinnati in a statement. "Women should be able to make their own healthcare decisions with their doctors, not politicians at the Ohio Statehouse.”