Ohio 'heartbeat abortion' bill nears Senate vote amid veto threat

Pregnant Credit Syda Productions Shutterstock CNA Syda Productions/Shutterstock.

The Ohio Senate is expected to pass legislation banning abortion on an unborn baby after he or she has a heartbeat, and there could be enough votes to override Gov. John Kasich's promised veto, amid questions over whether the proposal could withstand US Supreme Court scrutiny.

Republicans control the Senate with 24 votes to 9, and the "heartbeat abortion ban" only needs 20 votes to override a veto. The bill could face a full vote as soon as Thursday.

House sponsor State Rep. Christina Hagan told the New York Times the legislation is designed to challenge the pro-abortion rights U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, claiming Ohio is "best positioned to send this through the Circuit Courts and to the federal Supreme Court." She said she is confident backers have enough votes.

If H.B. 258 becomes law, it would ban abortions at around six weeks into pregnancy, once a baby's heart beat is detectable. The law allows exceptions to prevent a woman's death or bodily impairment, or in cases of medical emergency.

The bill's text makes clear that a pregnant woman who undergoes an abortion is not considered in violation of the law. Rather, it allows her to take civil action against the abortion doctor involved if it is proven he or she broke the law, related to the "wrongful death of the unborn child."

An abortionist who performs an abortion in violation of the law would commit a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine, the New York Times reports.

The bill also requires the Ohio Department of Health to inspect medical records of abortion facilities to ensure they are compliant with reporting requirements.

The bill also establishes more ways to promote adoption.

The Ohio Catholic Conference on Nov. 15 said it supports "the life-affirming intent of this legislation," but stopped short of endorsement. The conference said it will continue to assist efforts to resolve "differences related to specific language and strategies."

"In the end, the Catholic Conference of Ohio desires passage of legislation that can withstand constitutional challenge and be implemented in order to save lives," the Catholic conference said.

The recent vote in the House was 60-35, exactly the number of votes needed to override a veto.

The legislature first passed the bill in 2016, but it was vetoed by Kasich, a Republican set to leave office for governor-elect Mark DeWine, a Republican who supports the legislation.

"I believe that the essential function of government is to protect the most vulnerable members of society. That includes the unborn," DeWine said in an October gubernatorial debate with Democrat Richard Cordray.

Kasich has a strong pro-life record, signing into law at least 18 abortion regulations or restrictions, including a 20-week ban. The heartbeat bill is the only one he has vetoed.

State Rep. Catherine Ingram, D-Cincinnati, has said the bill would bring back dangerous methods of abortion procedures, while other critics have faulted its lack of exceptions for women pregnant by incest or rape. The Ohio State Medical Association has said it is very concerned about the possibility that doctors could face criminal penalties for what could be considered a standard of care.

Pro-abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice have opposed the bill. Foes of the bill planned to rally Tuesday during Senate hearings. Rally speakers included members of the Ohio Senate and House, a rabbi, and Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, vice-president of Catholics for Choice, Cleveland.com reports.

While Catholics for Choice self-describes as Catholic, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have repeatedly said the group is not affiliated with the Church in any way.

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In the past, the heartbeat bill was supported by pro-life organizations such as the Susan B. Anthony List. However, Ohio Right to Life pushed back against the bill, noting that similar legislation in other states have been overturned by the courts.

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said in 2016 that the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear appeals to those cases. At the time, he said legal scholars believed another effort to present a heartbeat law to the Supreme Court would cause "irreparable harm" to the pro-life movement.

Since 2016, U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy have been replaced with two new justices appointed by President Donald Trump. Though Kennedy was considered a swing vote in many abortion cases, it is still unclear what the new composition of the court could mean for specific pro-life legislation.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, abortions increased last year by 1 percent compared to the previous year. Out of the 20,893 abortions performed in 2017, the report stated, almost half were performed after nine weeks of the pregnancy.

Eighteen Ohio Republicans in the legislature have sponsored a different bill, H.B. 565, to define "any unborn human" as a human person under state law.

"I believe life begins at conception so the goal of this bill is to, first of all, continue to get the word out that life does begin at conception and move the debate in that direction and to protect unborn Ohioans from being aborted," bill sponsor Rep. Ron Hood said when the bill was introduced, CNN reports.

This proposal has drawn criticism and negative media coverage claiming it could mean pregnant women who get abortions could be charged with murder and potentially face the death penalty, claims that backers deny.

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