- By Laura A. Bischoff
The Ohio legislature Tuesday approved one of the nation’s toughest abortion laws, and the bill is now headed to Gov. John Kasich for his signature or veto.
Votes in the Ohio Senate and House capped a long day of maneuvering on a bill that would effectively outlaw abortions by banning the procedure once a heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
First Ohio senators voted 21-10 for the bill, which is different than the one the House approved last year. After more than 90 minutes of emotional debate, the House voted 56-39 late Tuesday in favor of the changes. The votes were mostly along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition.
Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, who previously balked at passing such bills because he said they would face constitutional challenges, said the election of Republican Donald Trump and an opening on the U.S. Supreme Court changes the dynamics.The Ohio House in March 2015 approved the so-called “heartbeat bill” that anti-abortion groups have been pushing for the last five years.
Kasich press secretary Emmalee Kalmbach wouldn’t say whether he favors the bill but added, “The governor believes in the sanctity of human life and has a strong, consistent pro-life record.” Kalmbach is a former staff member of Ohio Right to Life.
State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Township, said: “This bill has been a priority of the pro-life community for a long time, and I’m happy to see it finally go to the governor’s desk. I believe it will protect the innocent lives of thousands in Ohio.”
State Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard, spoke against the bill: “There is a time and a place for government. This is not one of them.”
If it becomes law, it would be one of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the nation and would likely spark a constitutional challenge. Opponents noted that it does not include an exception for victims of rape or incest and it could burden taxpayers with costly litigation.
Faith2Action has been advocating for the heartbeat bill since 2011 while Ohio Right to Life has refused to endorse it, seeing it as strategically risky. Similar laws adopted in Arkansas and North Dakota have been struck down by federal courts. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals on those rulings.
Kellie Copeland of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio called it an unconstitutional bill to block women’s access to safe and legal abortion before most women even know they’re pregnant.
“Once a woman has made the decision to end a pregnancy, she needs access to safe, legal health care in her community. This bill would effectively outlaw abortion and criminalize physicians that provide this care to their patients. One in three women choose to have an abortion in their lifetime, and seven in 10 Americans support legal access to abortion care. Banning women from getting a medical procedure is out of touch with Ohio values and is completely unacceptable,” she said in a written statement.
State Rep. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance, described the ban on abortions after a heartbeat is detected is a “compromise” since many lawmakers believe life begins at the moment of conception.
Fewer abortions were performed in Ohio in 2015 than at any time since the state began keeping records in 1976, according to an Ohio Department of Health report. The report shows that the steady decline that has been occurring over the past 15 years continued in 2015, with a slight drop to 20,976 abortions reported in the state. Last year, 52 percent of the terminations occurred at nine weeks or less gestation.
The Ohio House is also holding hearings on a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. Faber said both bills may be adopted — so that Ohio employs two tactics in case of legal challenges.
Mike Gonidakis, of Ohio Right to Life, said his organization believes the 20-week ban is a better route than the fetal heartbeat bill as means of overturning Roe versus Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion.