'Heartbeat' Bill Returns to Ohio Legislature

Committees in the Ohio House and Senate both heard testimony about legislation that would outlaw abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected — as soon as six weeks after conception

click to enlarge State Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, is a co-sponsor of the House's heartbeat bill. - Photo: Ohio House of Representatives
Photo: Ohio House of Representatives
State Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, is a co-sponsor of the House's heartbeat bill.

Committees in both the Ohio House and Senate yesterday heard testimony around a law that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected — as soon as six weeks after conception.

It's not the first time the restrictions — which, if passed, would be among the strictest in the country — have come before the Ohio General Assembly. But they may have a better chance of passing into law and withstanding legal challenges now than at any time in the past.

The state Senate's Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee heard testimony about SB23 and the House Health Committee heard HB68, both versions of the so-called "heartbeat" legislation.

The bills have roughly 50 co-sponsors as well as the support of pro-life groups like Ohio Right to Life. But dozens also testified or submitted written statements opposing the bills, including NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and the Ohio State Medical Association, on the grounds that it would block women's access to needed health care.

""The OSMA is extremely concerned due to specific provisions of the legislation that allow for civil and criminal penalties for clinicians who provide medical care related to women's reproductive health issues," the group said in written testimony.

The Republican-lead General Assembly last year passed a similar bill, but it was vetoed by then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich. It was the second time Kasich had vetoed the legislation due to concerns about its constitutionality.

New Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, however, says he will sign the bills into law.

Courts have struck down similar heartbeat laws in other states, including North Dakota and Iowa, as recently as last month. Federal courts have declared the laws violate the constitution under Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that guarantees abortion rights.

But with the two new conservative additions to the Supreme Court, supporters of the law say it could be part of a wave of legislation that succeeds before the new Supreme Court.

"Ultimately, this will work its way up to the United States Supreme Court," DeWine told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last month. "And they’ll make that decision.”

Bill co-sponsor State Rep. Candice Keller of Middletown says the aim of the legislation is simple: demonstrate that the laws can withstand legal scrutiny and protect the lives of the unborn.

"After nine years of waiting, it is time," she told the House committee, of which she is a member.

However, representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio argued in testimony yesterday that the legislation would represent a "seismic shift" in abortion access policy.

"Abortion will be effectively outlawed in Ohio, and likely in many of our neighboring states," NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland told the Senate committee. "Abortion may remain legal in some states, but they may not be able to handle the influx of patients to their states."

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