WASHINGTON — Ohio's Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country Thursday, banning abortion after the fetus’s heartbeat can be heard, usually after about six weeks of pregnancy. Abortion rights groups have vowed to sue, and will likely block the law in court.
This isn’t the first time Ohio had tried to pass this legislation, referred to as a "heartbeat" bill. The Ohio legislature has passed similar bills twice before, but former Republican Gov. John Kasich vetoed it both times.
Knowing that DeWine, Ohio’s new conservative governor who took office in January, was not likely to follow the path of his predecessor, Democrats in Ohio’s legislature had vocally protested the bill with evocative and gruesome stories about the state of abortion in the United States before it was legalized nationally in 1973, local NBC News affiliate WLWT5 reported.
The law has no exceptions for the cases of rape or incest, a point that two women Ohio representatives avidly criticized on Wednesday, telling their colleagues that they themselves had been raped and couldn’t imagine what they would have done if this law were in place at the time.
Despite vocal opposition, the Ohio House approved the measure 56–39, and the Senate approved changes 18–13, sending it to DeWine’s desk Wednesday afternoon.
Opponents (and some supporters) argue that the bill amounts to a total ban on abortion. Women not seeking to have children often do not know they are pregnant until they have missed two periods, which can sometimes be eight weeks or more into the pregnancy, so many women would miss the deadline of having a legal abortion if the law were to take effect. Other women may find out before the six-week mark, but might still be unable to get an abortion in time because of a lack of clinics in Ohio and state laws that require women to wait 24 hours between having an informational appointment about abortion and having the procedure done.
When the bill passed through the Ohio legislature in 2016 and 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union told BuzzFeed News that it was preparing to sue and block the legislation, should it become law, with the hopes of overturning it and creating precedent in the state that would make it hard to pass similar legislation.
The ACLU said Wednesday that once again it plans to sue. “Ohio politicians have a devastating track record of passing legislation designed to push abortion care out of reach, and this bill that bans abortion before most people even know they’re pregnant is no exception,” Elizabeth Watson, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. “We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: politicians have no business interfering in women’s personal health care decisions, and should Governor DeWine sign this bill into law, we will take this fight to court on behalf of Ohio women and their families.”
This “heartbeat” legislation started off as the work of fringe anti-abortion groups in socially conservative areas, but since 2013 versions of the bill have been passed in several sates — including Arkansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Kentucky, and Mississippi. Similar legislation was introduced, but not voted on, in the US House by Iowa Rep. Steve King in 2017. Most recently, Georgia passed similar legislation, and the state’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign it by mid-May. So far, none of the “heartbeat bills” have successfully become law without being blocked in court.
This post was updated after Gov. DeWine signed the legislation passed by Ohio's legislature Wednesday.