Ohio House Poised to Vote on 'Heartbeat' Bill

The Ohio House of Representatives will vote soon on a bill that would ban abortions as soon as six weeks after conception.

State Rep. Candice Keller of Middletown is a co-sponsor of Ohio's "heartbeat" bill. - Ohio House of Representatives
Ohio House of Representatives
State Rep. Candice Keller of Middletown is a co-sponsor of Ohio's "heartbeat" bill.

The Ohio House of Representatives will vote soon on one of the nation's tightest laws regulating abortion after the Ohio House Health Committee today opted to move forward with the so-called "heartbeat bill." 

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 23, passed out of committee by an 11-7 vote on party lines. The bill would make it illegal to administer an abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected — as soon as six weeks after conception. The bill does not make exceptions for rape or incest.

The legislation is scheduled for a full House vote tomorrow. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has indicated he will sign the bill if it passes.

Supporters of the bill say it is an effort to save the lives of the unborn and see it as a potential way to escalate a challenge to Roe v. Wade to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Opponents, however, say the bill will greatly infringe on women's rights to make decisions about their own bodies.

One lawmaker on the Health Committee, Democrat State Rep. Allison Russo, called the legislation "a sham," saying lawmakers should instead be considering things like infant and maternal mortality, the opiate crisis, mental health and other issues. 

Democrats on the committee worked to introduce a number of amendments making exceptions for issues like fetal abnormalities, but Republicans on the committee voted the amendments down.

DeWine's predecessor, John Kasich, vetoed the heartbeat bill in 2018, saying it likely violated the U.S. Constitution under Roe v. Wade. Instead, Kasich signed a law banning abortions after 20 weeks.

Courts have struck down similar heartbeat laws in other states, including North Dakota and Iowa, as recently as January. 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 Health Committee, of which she is a member, in February.

However, representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio argued in testimony in February 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 a similar 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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