As of last Thursday, Ohio became the latest and third state to enact a fetal heartbeat bill this year, joining Kentucky and Mississippi. It’s predicted that Georgia will become the fourth, with Iowa and North Dakota passing similar measures in recent years.
Under the new Ohio legislation, it would criminalize the behavior for doctors to perform an abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks before women even know they’re pregnant. Doctors could also face fines of up to $20,000 from the State Medical Board of Ohio.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, there were 20,893 abortions performed in the state in 2017, up 1% from the previous year.
However, the bill contains exceptions if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger, but has no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
Laying the Groundwork for Supreme Court Battles
Last month, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Kentucky law that prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected—approximately 6 weeks into pregnancy.
In the signing ceremony for Mississippi’s new law, state governor, Phil Bryant (R) stated that he believes the “heartbeat…to be the universal hallmark of life since man’s very beginning.”
“[…] We’re going to try to protect that child whenever we can,” Bryant said. “We think that this is showing the profound respect and desire Mississippians to protect the sanctity of that very unborn life whenever possible.”
While the laws are unlikely to go into effect anytime soon, groundwork continues to be laid by activists for what will most likely be an upcoming Supreme Court challenge and clash with the landmark case, Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb-usually 24 weeks into a pregnancy.
The new bill, signed into law, by Ohio governor and former Attorney General, Mike DeWine (R), would ban abortions as early as six weeks, before many women realize they are pregnant. The law sets to take effect in July, but is likely to face legal challenges.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already indicated its intentions to sue, having already challenged both of Kentucky’s measures in its suit on behalf of EMW Women’s Surgical Center, Kentucky’s only licensed abortion clinic.
“We think this is a very straightforward legal issue,” Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the A.C.L.U.’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said. “States can’t ban abortion. It has been well settled over 40 years ago in Roe v. Wade.”
“This will protect those who cannot protect themselves,” DeWine said, also acknowledging its potential to be used as a tool to combat Roe v. Wade. “Taking this action really is the time-honored tradition, the constitutional tradition, of making a good-faith argument for modification, reversal of existing legal precedent,” he added in an interview with Cleveland.com.
Since former Ohio governor, John Kasich’s entrance into office back in 2011, Ohio has enacted over 20 abortion restrictions. Yet, this new legislation by now Governor DeWine, abortion right supporters weren’t overly surprised, given his background as former Ohio Attorney General.
“The reaction from our supporters has been exactly what we knew it would be, which is defiance,” said Kellie Copeland, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, an abortion rights group that intends to combat the new bill. “We are not accepting the barriers that these politicians are trying to put on our bodily autonomy.”
The future is cloudy, as the landscape of the U.S. Supreme Court changed last year after Justice Brett Kavanaugh, replaced longtime swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired.
GritDaily will keep you updated on this story, as it has reached out to Governor DeWine’s office for further questions.