Ohio’s proposed abortion ban: Chances of passage likened to previous abortion bills

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine isn’t taking a position on a proposal to outlaw abortion from the moment of conception — but he’s not saying no, either.

“Gov. DeWine has been focused on implementing the ‘Heartbeat Bill’ and increasing supports for moms and babies,” Press Secretary Dan Tierney said Tuesday via text message. “That is what he has been talking about up to this point, and that is what he will continue to talk about.”

The “Heartbeat Bill” is a 2019 piece of state legislation that outlawed abortions after five or six weeks’ gestation. It was blocked in the courts but went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade at the end of June.

Republican-controlled state legislatures nationwide are moving swiftly to enact new abortion restrictions, and Ohio is no exception. On Monday, state Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, filed House Bill 704. Dubbed the “Personhood Act,” it would make abortion illegal from the moment of conception, except when the mother’s life is in danger. So far the bill by Click, pastor at Fremont Baptist Temple, has seven Republican cosponsors.

Ohio Democrats warn that HB 704 and other anti-abortion bills not only contain no exceptions for rape or incest but could tacitly outlaw in-vitro fertilization and some forms of birth control and may herald attempts to outlaw contraception altogether.

The state Democratic Party asserts DeWine “can’t wait” to sign HB 704, noting that he willingly signed previous anti-abortion measures including the “Heartbeat” and “Born Alive” bills.

“Mike DeWine is the most anti-choice governor in the country, and if he’s reelected it’s all but assured he will sign this extreme bill into law,” Ohio Democratic Party spokesperson Matt Keyes said in a news release. “He’s promised to ‘go as far as we can’ to restrict reproductive rights and should he win in November, he’s sure to keep that promise.”

Tierney downplayed Democrats’ claims as a campaign tactic, saying they bore “loose associations with the truth.”

Former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, now the Democratic nominee for governor, said if voters choose her over DeWine she’ll seek to have abortion rights written into the Ohio Constitution.

“This legislation is further proof that Gov. DeWine and the extremists in the legislature will stop at nothing until all abortions are illegal in our state,” Whaley said in a news release.

“Ohio women deserve to be able to make these choices between themselves, their families, and their doctors – without politicians like Mike DeWine inserting themselves in the process. Not only does this bill take away a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body and future, but it will hurt the economic future of our state.”

Legislative delay

Republicans hold a supermajority in the Ohio General Assembly, but party leaders have indicated they do not expect to reconvene to consider further abortion restrictions until after the November general election. That lame-duck session could last until the end of the year.

When a bill like HB 704 is submitted, it’s referred to a legislative committee. There, most bills receive at least three hearings: a presentation from bill sponsors, a chance for proponents to speak and a hearing for opponents. Bills may receive more hearings depending on public interest and the willingness of the committee to hear extensively from all sides. Click’s bill has not yet been assigned to a committee.

If a bill receives a majority vote to pass out of committee it can be added to the calendar for a floor vote in the chamber where it originated. If it passes the full chamber — in this case the House — it would move on to the Senate and go through the committee process again.

Sometimes issues that legislators are eager to move on quickly will have identical or near-identical “companion bills” in both chambers at once. One of those would be selected as the final version for acceptance by both House and Senate, but time would be saved by not duplicating discussion.

In rare cases controversial legislation may be attached to an unrelated bill as an amendment on the legislative chamber floor, as legislators did late on the night of June 1 to get a ban on transgender women competing in women’s sports through the House. But that bill still faces consideration by the Senate, where leaders have said it will likely go through the committee process.

Each chamber can amend bills, so if final versions of legislation differ legislators must vote to accept the other chamber’s changes or hash out those differences in a conference committee.

A bill that passes both chambers goes to the governor for final approval with his signature.

Legislators can declare in a bill that it’s an “emergency,” allowing it to go into effect immediately upon final approval. But that takes more votes, so controversial bills are likely to wait the usual time: 90 days after being signed by the governor. Thus the earliest HB 704 — if passed — would likely be in effect is mid-February 2023, perhaps as late as the end of March 2023.

Among other abortion-related bills now in the General Assembly are:

HB 598, sponsored by state Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, and its Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 123, sponsored by state Sens. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, and Sandra O’Brien, R-Ashtabula. It would make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions.

HB 480, sponsored by state Reps. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, and Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp., which would allow private citizens to file lawsuits against anyone who perform or “aids or abets” an abortion, or has “taken action or made statements” indicating they plan to do so.

Under Ohio laws previously in force, most abortions were already illegal past 20 weeks’ gestation, or 22 weeks past the woman’s last menstrual period.

Other options

In reaction to numerous anti-abortion measures in process at the state level across the country, this week President Joe Biden issued a general directive for federal agencies to expand access to medication abortion and family planning, and to protect those who may travel out of their home states for abortions. But that executive order’s impact is likely to be limited, primarily affecting states where abortion remains broadly legal. The Biden Administration also told hospitals that under federal law on emergency treatment they must perform abortions if the mother’s life is at risk, regardless of local or state laws.

Abortion is still legal in some form, though often hard to get and under legislative threat, in most states bordering Ohio. Only West Virginia has a blanket ban on the books, a law that dates back more than 170 years.

Kentucky already had a “trigger ban” in place, to go into effect with Roe’s overturn; but its implementation has thus far been blocked by the courts.

Abortions remain legal in Indiana, but a broader ban is proposed there too. A federal court has removed blocks on stricter standards for some abortion procedures, laws against abortion-related care by telehealth, more stringent requirements for clinics and other limitations.

In Michigan, an amendment to put abortion protections in the state constitution will likely be on the November ballot. And in Pennsylvania, the Democratic governor has signed an executive order to protect abortion, but the Republican-controlled Senate has passed a proposed constitutional amendment to ban it.

About the Author