Update: On Tuesday, Dec. 13, Gov. John Kasich rejected the heartbeat bill, vetoing the GOP-passed legislation that would have given Ohio the strictest abortion ban in the nation, instead signing a bill that would prevent abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation. Neither bill included an exception for rape, incest or severe fetal anomalies. Both included an exception to save the life of a pregnant woman.
Story originally published Tuesday, Dec. 6.
On Tuesday, Dec. 6, the Ohio state legislature passed what is now one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, banning abortion from the time a heartbeat can first be detected in a pregnancy (approximately six weeks gestational age), often before many women even learn they are pregnant. The bill does not contain any exemptions for victims of rape or incest. Likewise, no exemptions are afforded for fetal anomalies or health concerns of the woman. Pro-choice advocates say that the bill is intended to effectively ban all abortion in the state, and a legal challenge to the bill is expected.
The “heartbeat bill” was passed by being added as an amendment to a bill that revised Ohio’s child abuse and neglect laws. Since that bill had already cleared the state’s House, it was not subject to any additional hearings after the abortion ban amendment was added to it.
Currently, the bill is heading to Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s desk for signing. A 20-week abortion ban bill is also expected to be passed by Ohio’s legislature on Wednesday. It remains to be seen which Kasich will sign, if any.
The bill, which will go into effect in just 10 days should Kasich sign it into law, would punish any physician who performed an abortion without checking for fetal heartbeat or performing the procedure after it was detected with up to one year in prison. Doctors could also face a civil lawsuit from the mother and disciplinary action.
“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,” Kellie Copeland, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, tells Yahoo Beauty. “Clearly this bill’s supporters are hoping that President-elect Trump will have the chance to pack the U.S. Supreme Court with justices that are poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. We must prevent that from happening to protect women’s lives.”
While voting was primarily split along party lines, Republicans Bill Coley, Gayle Manning of North Ridgeville and Bill Seitz joined all Democrats in voting against the amendment. Coley explained that the bill would will waste millions in taxpayer dollars on legal fees and had no chance of becoming law.
On Tuesday night, opponents of the heartbeat bill stood outside the governor’s residence, protesting the bill’s passage.
Abortion rights supporters protesting at Governor's residence where event is being held, just hours after Ohio Senate passed Heartbeat bill pic.twitter.com/Ze4SYM4F2A
— Jo Ingles (@joingles) December 7, 2016
“Politicians in the Ohio state legislature just rushed through some of the most extreme abortion bans in the country. They did so in the dead of night, just days before a new Congress takes over, because they know Ohioans reject this agenda. That did not stop dozens of reproductive rights advocates from protesting at Governor John Kasich’s house,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, tells Yahoo Beauty. “These abortion bans are rejected by the public because they know how dangerous they are for women. When access to reproductive health care is blocked, women suffer. We’re not going to stand for these blatant ideological attacks on our rights to make our own decisions.”
In the midst of concern about what a Trump-Pence administration would mean for women’s health and reproductive rights, the latest move by Ohio to restrict women’s access to abortion care is in line with the anti-choice record of Gov. Kasich.
Hayley Smith, advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), tells Yahoo Beauty that what is happening right now in Ohio is “a perfect case study” for the way that anti-choice advocates and lawmakers are attempting to effectively prevent women from accessing their constitutionally guaranteed right to abortion care. Smith notes that there is a longstanding legal precedent showing that bills that ban abortion prior to fetal viability are unconstitutional, from Roe v. Wade (1973) to Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) to Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016).
Smith also explains that when similar pre-viability abortion bans have been passed, they have been struck down by courts. That includes a similar law in North Dakota that banned abortion as early as six weeks and a law in North Carolina that banned abortion after 12 weeks; both were overturned.
In its written policy on abortion, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that “abortion is an essential component of women’s health care. Like all medical matters, decisions regarding abortion should be made by patients in consultation with their health care providers and without undue interference by outside parties. Like all patients, women obtaining abortion are entitled to privacy, dignity, respect and support.”
ACOG also notes that it affirms “the legal right of a woman to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability. ACOG is opposed to abortion of the healthy fetus that has attained viability in a healthy woman. Viability is the capacity of the fetus for sustained survival outside the woman’s uterus.”
A fetus is not viable at six weeks gestation, and recent research has found that only 23 percent of babies born between 22 and 27 weeks gestational age survive to the toddler stage, even after aggressive medical treatment.
During Kasich’s time as governor, Ohio has enacted 18 measures to restrict access to reproductive health care, and nearly half the abortion providers in the state have been closed.
Under Kasich’s leadership, Ohio has also prohibited rape crisis counselors from telling women that they have the option to access abortion services, prohibited almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, mandated ultrasounds before a woman can get an abortion, and defunded Planned Parenthood — resulting in the shuttering of reproductive and sexual health providers’ Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program, the largest infant mortality prevention program in a state that ranks sixth in the nation for infant mortality rates for African-Americans.
“I think what’s interesting here is that Ohio politicians have worked for years to restrict access to abortion — but they’ve done it not as blatantly as they are doing now,” Smith says of the latest bills. “They have imposed clinic restrictions intended to force clinics to close their doors; they have enacted laws to force women to delay accessing care through waiting periods. We always knew their underlying goal was to ban access to abortion completely, and now with the six-week and 20-week bans, they’re exposing what’s been the goal all along.”
She adds, “Banning abortion doesn’t stop women from getting abortions, it just forces them to turn to whatever means necessary” to get the care they need.
In a statement, Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, expressed her opposition to both the heartbeat bill and the 20-week ban, outlining the effect they would have on women and saying, “Women should be trusted and respected to make their own, personal health care decisions — not politicians. But in Ohio, politicians in the state legislature are doing just that. Today, politicians jammed through a six-week abortion ban that does not include exceptions for rape and incest. Not only is this shameful, but it’s dangerous for women. And the legislature plans to pass a 20-week abortion bill later this week. If signed into law, these bills would force women to travel long distances and cross state lines to access abortion. For many women, the expense and time these restrictions would force upon them would make access impossible. Let’s be clear, these bills are a blatant attempt by the Ohio Legislature to ban abortion. I urge Governor Kasich to veto both bills.”