Ohio lawmakers await Kasich's decision on 'heartbeat' abortion bill

Ohio lawmakers on Tuesday passed a controversial bill that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. 

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Marchers carry a banner during the March for Life 2016, in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, during the annual rally Jan. 22, 2016,on the anniversary of 1973 'Roe v. Wade' U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Roe v. Wade could be in jeopardy under Donald Trump's presidency who would likely nominate a conservative justice to fill the vacant seat.

A controversial bill banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected is now in the hands of Gov. John Kasich after being passed Tuesday by Ohio lawmakers. 

The bill, which could outlaw abortion as early as six weeks after conception, would be one of the strictest abortion restrictions in the US if it becomes law. 

Similar "heartbeat" legislation in North Dakota and Arkansas has previously been struck down as unconstitutional by lower courts, and the Supreme Court has refused to hear appeals on those rulings. But Ohio Republicans are hopeful that, as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to fill at least one Supreme Court vacancy, the bill may have a chance in their state.  

"A new president, new Supreme Court appointees change the dynamic, and there was consensus in our caucus to move forward," state Senate President Keith Faber, a Republican, told the Columbus Dispatch. "I think it has a better chance than it did before." 

Critics of the legislation, which is part of a wider bill on reporting child abuse, say that it is unconstitutional and has no exceptions for rape, incest, or to protect the health of women who get abortions. (The bill would, however, make an exception when an abortion is deemed necessary to save the life of the mother.) The Supreme Court has held that states cannot forbid abortion unless a fetus is viable outside the womb, typically around 24 weeks' gestation. 

"Once a woman has made the decision to end a pregnancy, she needs access to safe, legal healthcare in her community. This bill would effectively outlaw abortion and criminalize physicians that provide this care to their patients," said Kellie Copeland, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, in a statement. "Banning women from getting a medical procedure is out of touch with Ohio values and is completely unacceptable." 

Ohio was not the only state this year to introduce controversial legislation on reproductive health and rights: In just the first quarter of 2016, 45 state legislatures introduced 1,022 provisions, 21 of which became laws, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research institute focusing on reproductive rights. As David Iaconangelo reported for The Christian Science Monitor in June: 

Florida excluded abortion providers from Medicaid. Utah required abortion doctors to inject women with anesthesia, so that the fetus would not feel pain during the procedure – a requirement at odds with much research on fetal pain. Indiana banned abortions performed because of fetal disability, or on the basis of a fetus' sex or race. The state also established newly prohibitive standards on abortion doctors resembling those of the Texas law now before the Supreme Court.

Such laws are among the latest in abortion opponents' attempts, going back to the first battles following the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, to discourage abortions by creating obstacles for women and their providers. But the latest wave of state measures, say experts, has its roots in federal gridlock as well as a spate of 2010 midterm victories for tea party conservatives, who shifted legislatures and governorships further to the right.

"In 2011 you started to see this huge increase," the Guttmacher Institute's Elizabeth Nash told the Monitor. Not long after tea party candidates entered office, she said, "you started to see abortion restrictions fly through state legislatures, and they haven't really stopped." 

Whether Gov. John Kasich of Ohio will sign the heartbeat bill into law remains to be seen. The Republican governor, while an opponent of abortion, has questioned in the past the constitutionality of such legislation, the Dispatch reports. 

Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he was skeptical that the election of Donald Trump would drastically affect the heartbeat bill's chances in court. He described his organization as neutral toward the bill, favoring separate legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. 

"Everyone is swept up in Trumpmania, but let's be realistic," Mr. Gonidakis said. 

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