State lawmakers are on the brink of deciding whether to put Ohio in the middle of a legal and cultural battle over abortion by passing one of the strictest limits on abortion in the country.
This week, state senators will either adopt House Bill 258, which would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or let the measure die. The Ohio House of Representatives adopted the bill last month on a 60-35 vote, which is enough support to override a veto from Gov. John Kasich.
Kasich, who rejected a similar measure in December 2016, has indicated he would veto House Bill 258. If lawmakers are to have enough time to override a Kasich veto, the Ohio Senate must adopt the bill by Thursday.
It would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. North Dakota and Arkansas passed similar bans but those laws are put on hold while opponents challenge them in federal court.
At a rally outside the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday, more than 200 opponents of House Bill 258 shouted chants, carried signs and spoke against the measure.
“We will not grow tired. We will not grow weary. We will not go back (to when abortion was illegal,)” said Rihannon Childs of Planned Parenthood Advocates in central Ohio.
Jaime Miracle of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio said if HB258 clears the Ohio General Assembly, abortion rights groups would immediately sue to block it from taking effect while the law is litigated.
Abortion opponents have pushed the so-called heartbeat bill in Ohio since at least 2011 but previous measures have failed to gain final legislative approval or overcome a governor’s veto. Governor-elect Mike DeWine said he would sign a heartbeat bill.
During Kasich’s eight years as governor, he has signed more than a dozen abortion restrictions, including a bill that makes it a crime for doctors to perform abortions if the woman wants to terminate because the fetus may have Down syndrome; a ban on abortions after 20 weeks gestation; a mandate that clinics have transfer agreements with local hospitals in case of emergencies; stricter standards for juveniles seeking a judicial bypass instead of parental consent to terminate their pregnancies; and a prohibition on public hospitals performing abortions or holding transfer agreements.
On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Roe v Wade that women have the constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies. It gave the state the power to regulate abortion to protect the health of the mother and that authority increased as a pregnancy progressed. Once a fetus is viable outside the womb, the state has an interest in protecting that potential life with restrictions on abortions.