Ohio's Strict 'Heartbeat' Abortion Law Heads to Governor

December 7th 2016

Mike Rothschild

The Ohio House and Senate passed a bill that would essentially outlaw abortion by criminalizing it when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Given that this can be as early as six weeks into gestation, before most women even know they're pregnant, the "Heartbeat Bill" is essentially a complete ban on abortion with no exceptions other than to save the mother's life.

The provision was tacked on as a rider to an unrelated bill defining mandated reporting for medical professionals, and makes Ohio just the third state to pass a fetal heartbeat abortion ban. The other two, passed by Arkansas and North Dakota, were deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in January - and Ohio's ban might not even get that far.

With Ohio's legislative session winding down, the two chambers moved quickly to pass the bill. The state Senate passed it Tuesday morning, and it went to the full state House that night, passing there as well. Both votes essentially went down party lines.

The bill now goes to state Gov. John Kasich for signatures, and he has 10 days to either sign or veto it - whereby it becomes law no matter what.

Kasich has a complicated history with abortion rights and laws. In 2014, a similar "heartbeat law" made its way through the Ohio legislature, and while Kasich said he "had concerns" about the law, he didn't commit to actually vetoing it. The bill ended up not passing the Ohio house, meaning Kasich never had to decide.

The former presidential candidate is pro-life and has presided over a number of clinics being closed, but also has expressed the need for abortion laws to carry exceptions for rape and incest - which the new heartbeat bill doesn't. He's also expressed reservations about whether such a law would survive court challenges.

Assuming Kasich does sign the bill, it would become law, but would almost certainly be blocked by lawsuits and wind up going to court, where it likely faces the same fate as the North Dakota and Arkansas laws.

With the bill being rammed through the Ohio legislature just before it ends its session, the timing is being linked to the possibility of a new Trump administration immediately nominating a staunchly anti-abortion U.S. Supreme Court justice. Ohio Senate President Keith Faber told a local TV station that a new president and the possibility of new Supreme Court justice appointees "change the dynamic" and make the survival of such bills more likely.

But even other abortion foes find this to be unlikely.

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, whose group favors the passage of a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, isn't optimistic the ban will survive, telling USA Today, "everyone is swept up in Trumpmania, but let's be realistic."