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Ohio Republicans’ Next Step: Criminalize Abortion (Updated)

Auditi Guha

Ohio’s bill is part of a trend among GOP state lawmakers trying to pass legislation to challenge Roe v. Wade, creating a case that would allow the Supreme Court to revisit legal protections for abortion care.

UPDATE, December 14, 9:31 a.m.: Ohio Republicans on Thursday sent two anti-choice bills to Gov. John Kasich’s desk: one outlawing the most common form of second trimester abortion care and one prohibiting abortion six weeks into pregnancy, which amounts to a total abortion ban.

The GOP-dominated Ohio legislature, which last week advanced a “heartbeat” ban that aims to ban abortion care six weeks into pregnancy, is now considering a “personhood” bill that would criminalize the common medical procedure. 

One of the most restrictive abortion bans in the United States, HB 258 passed in a 60-35 house vote on November 15 and effectively bars people from receiving an abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, except in the case of a medical emergency. House Republicans rejected other amendments offered to require sex education, free contraception, and remove felony penalties from the bill in a move that NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio called “horrific.”

“The rejection of these amendments proves the true intent of this bill. This is about punishing women and the doctors who provide them with care. Abortion is health care, not a criminal act.” NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said in a statement.

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Ohio already has a 20-week abortion ban that took effect last year. The new “heartbeat” bill would ban abortion as early as six weeks, before many people know they’re pregnant. Bill co-sponsor Rep. Christina Hagan (R-Alliance), who campaigned for President Trump, said it was crafted to challenge the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion a constitutional right.

Ohio Republicans are now mulling a “personhood” bill that aims to ban abortions entirely, WOSU Radio reported. Introduced by House Republicans Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) and Ron Hood (R-Ashville) in March, HB 565 seeks to characterize fetuses as persons to make abortions punishable by life in prison and even the death penalty. It is currently in the house health committee and has the support of about 20 Republicans out of 100, according to CityBeat

Anti-choice activists often use the strategy of proposing two separate, extreme measures to play off each other. A heartbeat ban can now sound more “reasonable” or like a “compromise” compared to a total abortion ban, said Jessica Mason Pieklo, vice president of law and the courts at Rewire.News.

Either one of these patently unconstitutional bills poses a direct threat to Roe and Casey, though the heartbeat ban is more insidious and plays into the conservative strategy attacking abortion rights and chipping away at access to make abortion legal in name only,” Mason Pieklo said. “Should it pass and be upheld, states could effectively ban abortion without banning abortion.”

The so-called heartbeat bill advances to the Ohio state senate, which convenes November 28, December 5 and December 12. Republicans could push to pass it in this lame-duck session before the new Ohio General Assembly and Republican governor take office.

Republican Governor-elect Mike DeWine, who will succeed term-limited Gov. John Kasich (R), is anti-choice and would likely sign such a bill if it reached his desk. Supporters claim to have the 60 votes needed to override a veto from Kasich, according to news reports.

The Ohio State Medical Association and ACOG in 2016 opposed the fetal heartbeat law, which Kasich vetoed on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

While two Ohio Democrats support the so-called heartbeat bill, those opposing it said the bill makes no exception for pregnancy resulting from incest or rape. They also noted there are only 24 women in the 99-member House, according to Cleveland.com.

“I do not need anyone in the building telling me what to do with my body,” Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) said. “It is really, really, really unsettling that we have to tell people what to do with their body.”

Ohio’s bill is part of a trend among GOP state lawmakers trying to pass legislation to challenge Roe v. Wade, creating a case that would allow the Supreme Court to revisit legal protections for abortion care. The recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh creating a more conservative Supreme Court majority has many states launching similar attacks on abortion rights, especially in GOP-held legislatures like Ohio.

Iowa GOP lawmakers passed a six-week abortion ban in May that was immediately challenged and is temporarily blocked; Idaho passed a law in March that is also in court requiring health-care providers to file a report every time there is an abortion-related health complication; and Arkansas faces similar legislation, as Rewire.News reported.

Republican-held legislatures are gearing up to restrict abortion access in 2019. In Texas, GOP lawmakers have introduced another “personhood” bill that aims to ban abortion by granting the right to life to “unborn children.”An identical bill failed to pass in 2016.

In Ohio, more than 20,000 people every year choose to receive abortion care and seven in ten nationwide support access to abortion care, according to NARAL Pro-Choice. “Banning women from getting a medical procedure is dangerous, out of touch with Ohio values, and is completely unacceptable,” NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio said in a statement.

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