On the second day of the lame duck session, Ohio lawmakers didn't shy away from another controversial topic. What's become known as the "Heartbeat Bill" passed 58-35, largely on party lines, in the Ohio House on Thursday afternoon. It now heads to the Ohio Senate for full confirmation.
The so-called Heartbeat Bill prohibits doctors from performing abortions once a heartbeat is detected. While pregnancies and procedures vary, the first heartbeat generally comes around the 6-week mark. Additionally, the bill includes a provision that subjects doctors to possible felony charges if they are convicted of performing an abortion after a heartbeat is detected.
Governor John Kasich vetoed the same bill two years ago, saying it was contrary to the prior U.S. Supreme Court rulings on abortion. Courts in other states have halted similar legislation, including Arkansas, North Dakota and Iowa.
Pro-choice advocates like Kellie Copeland, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said the legislation is concerning, especially considering the new look, more conservative-leaning United States Supreme Court.
"We do have serious concerns about what those rulings might be. For 45 years, the Supreme Court has upheld that a person has the right to their bodily autonomy,” Copeland said. “They can decide when they want to be pregnant and when they don’t within the first two trimesters of a pregnancy,"
“It would effectively ban all abortions at a point in pregnancy before most people even realize they are pregnant. It interferes with the patient-doctor relationship. It is entirely inappropriate for politicians to be involved with,” Copeland said.
The bill does contain some exceptions. An abortion would be permitted if it would prevent the mother from dying or suffering a "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." Doctors would also be permitted to perform an abortion if a fetal heartbeat cannot be detected due to a medical emergency. Roughly 20,000 abortions are performed in Ohio every year, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Similar pieces of legislation have been introduced by lawmakers in the past, dating back to 2011. Ohio Right to Life, the state chapter of one of the largest pro-life organizations in the country, has not advocated for the bill. Other groups across the state, including Faith 2 Action, have advocated for such legislation.
“We have a right and a responsibility, as elected leaders, to protect these vulnerable children,” said Rep. Christina Hagan (R-District 30) on the house floor Thursday afternoon. “If a heartbeat is detected. Mr. Speaker, the baby should be protected… This is common sense policy. It is very simple, it’s very straight-forward. That’s why so many understand and are willing to advocate for it, even outside this chamber.”
The vote on the heartbeat bill comes a day after lawmakers passed a controversial change to the state’s deadly force laws. The back-to-back votes on controversial topics also come nine days after the midterm elections, which resulted in the GOP maintaining a super-majority in state government.
“Are you kidding me? With all of the issues going on right now, with all the things you promised us you were going to do on the campaign trail and you come back the first week and this is what you do?” Copeland said. “I’m always puzzled by this idea that somehow we’re going to outlaw abortion and abortion is somehow going to go away.”
Governor Kasich has previously stated he would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk again. Governor-elect Mike Dewine has stated that he supports such legislation.
The bill now moves to the Ohio Senate.