Late last week, the Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill prohibiting abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which usually becomes possible about six weeks into pregnancy. The state’s General Assembly passed similar legislation in 2016, but it was vetoed by Ohio governor John Kasich, who said it violated Supreme Court rulings on abortion and would not survive a legal challenge.
If this new iteration of the bill makes it through the Ohio Senate, as it is expected to do, it will likely be vetoed by Kasich once again. But Ohio’s incoming Republican governor, Mike DeWine, who just defeated Democrat Richard Cordray in the race to succeed Kasich, is expected to support heartbeat legislation in the future.
DeWine served several terms as a U.S. senator and is currently Ohio’s attorney general. He’s well known for his support of pro-life legislation. In the Senate in the 1990s, he was a key proponent of the federal ban on partial-birth abortion. Most recently, as attorney general, he elected to defend against a legal challenge the state’s ban on abortion of fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Unlike what some of the bill’s opponents claim, the new legislation would not punish women who seek or obtain abortions. Instead, it would make it a fifth-degree felony to perform an abortion, with a penalty of up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine. This model is in keeping with the long-standing view of most in the pro-life movement that women are victims of abortion, too.
Although a handful of states have attempted to pass similar heartbeat bills, Iowa is currently the only state to have such legislation on the books, and that bill has been placed under an injunction while it faces a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood. Opponents of heartbeat bills say that they necessarily violate abortion jurisprudence, but many in the pro-life movement believe that’s exactly the point.
Many state-level limits on abortion — including heartbeat bills — have been expressly designed by pro-life policymakers in order to invite a legal challenge, creating a case that could return to the Supreme Court and result in the overturning or loosening of decisions such as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which provide a framework that allows lower courts to routinely strike down regulation of abortion.
There are currently a number of cases pending in federal courts considering state-level abortion restrictions, including both heartbeat bills and late-term restrictions such as Mississippi’s 15-week ban passed this spring.