Ohio Lawmakers Just Passed One of the Most Restrictive Abortion Bills in the Country

The “fetal heartbeat ban” awaits the governor’s signature.

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The Ohio Legislature on Thursday passed a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is heard, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Because many women still don’t know they’re pregnant after six weeks, pro-choice activists say the bill essentially amounts to a ban on abortion. The bill was passed by the state Senate 18-13 and the House 53-32 on Wednesday. Republican Gov. John Kasich, although himself an ardent opponent of abortion rights, has said in the past he would veto the law because it is likely unconstitutional. (Kasich vetoed a similar bill in 2016.) As of now, the Legislature does not have the necessary votes to override a Kasich veto.*

As my colleague Rosa Furneaux has reported about Ohio’s anti-abortion moves:

For years, Ohio politicians have slowly whittled away at a woman’s legal right to end her pregnancy. In 1995, Ohio was the first state to ban so-called partial-birth abortion, an imprecise term for a rare procedure used late in pregnancy. A federal court struck down the law, which nevertheless set off a wave of copycat legislation nationwide. In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, outlawing the procedure.

Kasich has signed 20 anti-abortion measures since 2011, according to NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. These include a ban on abortion after 20 weeks and a law that makes it a criminal offense for women to abort a fetus that may have Down syndrome. Women have to have two in-person doctors appointments prior to receiving an abortion, and must undergo a state-mandated ultrasound. State-funded rape crisis counselors are not allowed to refer women to abortion services.  Kasich has also imposed burdensome requirements on abortion clinics, which now have to have a patient-transfer agreement with a local private hospital. The various restrictions have contributed to the closure of 8 of the state’s 16 facilities over seven years.

Even if Kasich successfully vetoes the bill, anti-choice advocates are confident that the election of Attorney General Mike DeWine, a pro-life crusader, to the governorship will get the restrictive legislation through in the new year. If the bill passes, the inevitable legal challenge to the law’s constitutionality could make it the first abortion restriction reviewed by the newly conservative Supreme Court. As I reported in August, many Republicans are hoping that the Supreme Court will use such a case as an opportunity to review and overturn Roe v. Wade, the seminal case that legalized abortion nationwide.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Ohio Legislature has enough votes to override the governor’s veto. It does not.