Ohio Lawmakers to Consider 'Heartbeat' Bill Tomorrow

If passed, the legislation could become part of a larger battle around protections for abortion set out in Roe v. Wade

click to enlarge State Rep. Christina Hagan - Ohio House of Representatives
Ohio House of Representatives
State Rep. Christina Hagan

Doctors who administer abortions after a fetus has a heartbeat could spend a year in prison if a new piece of legislation coming before the Ohio House of Representatives Nov. 15 becomes law.

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 law, which would be one of the strictest in the nation, 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.

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 should it pass.

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.

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