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'Heartbeat Bill' Abortion Ban Passes Ohio Senate

Abortion protesters at the Ohio Statehouse.
Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau

The Ohio Senate has passed the so-called “Heartbeat Bill,” SB 23, which bans an abortion when a viable heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks. If passed, it would be one of the most restrictive abortion measures in the country.

Pro-choice groups have said if the “Heartbeat Bill” is signed into law, they plan to challenge it in court. This would likely result in a pricey court battle that could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republican Senate President Larry Obhof says lawmakers don’t shy away from issues just because of the threat of litigation.

“There are examples on this issue here in Ohio where the legislature has been bold and has taken a stand and ultimately, while we would’ve expected there to be litigation at some point, we came out victorious,” says Obhof, who points to a ruling this week where a federal court sided with Ohio on defunding Planned Parenthood.

The Ohio measure's sponsor, state Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson), said using the existence of a fetal heartbeat as the defining line is clearer than determining a fetus' fate based on its viability outside the womb, a marker established in court precedent. Roegner said viability can vary depending on the medical care and technology available under different circumstances.

Viability "is a moving target, and we need a new standard," she said. "The 'Heartbeat Bill' provides a sensible solution."

Opponents say this bill infringes on women’s rights and health. Democrats unsuccessfully sought to include an exemption for cases involving rape an incest. The bill does, however, include an exemption if the pregnant woman's life is at risk.

“The six-week abortion ban is unconscionable,” says state Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood). “This extreme bill is dangerous to the health, safety, and livelihood of women and threatens to criminalize doctors. This bill is unconstitutional and millions of Ohio taxpayer dollars will eventually be spent defending it in court. Ohioans sent us here to fix roads and help them put food on the table, not intrude into a woman’s private medical decision.”

The Ohio Senate approved the bill, 19-13. It now goes to the Ohio House, where it has passed in several recent General Assemblies. Gov. Mike DeWine has said he supports the bill as well.