Ohio’s “Heartbeat Bill” Returns — and We Should All Be Scared

It’s been over six years since Janet Porter first convinced far-right Ohio legislators to introduce a bill in the state capitol that would ban abortion after a heartbeat could be detected – as early as four weeks after conception.

Since then, the bill has been voted on and blocked repeatedly. Supporters have displayed heart balloons, sent children carrying teddy bears to persuade politicians and produced advertisements about buses of children plummeting off cliffs to encourage lawmakers to move ahead with the restriction. Fetuses have even “testified” on the floor.

At the end of 2016, social conservatives finally managed to get a bill through both the house and senate — only to have Republican Governor John Kasich veto the measure when it arrived on his desk.

At that point, it seemed like we had finally reached the end of the heartbeat ban in Ohio. But, as it turns out, we were wrong.

Apparently fourth time’s a charm for Ohio’s abortion opponents, as Republican Rep. Christina Hagan reintroduced the heartbeat ban again this week. Despite the fact that it has failed to become law — again and again and again — Hagan remains positive that the time is right for an extreme, unconstitutional pre-viability abortion ban.

“I believe that children with beating hearts deserve protection in the state of Ohio, and we should work toward that effort regardless of what the political climate ever looks like,” she said, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “You can’t get distracted by variables you can’t control.” She added, “Every time we have the discussion about the validity of the child in the womb, I believe we save lives. As far as having the discussion on the House floor or in committee, I will have it at every opportunity and every turn of the way. I believe that these discussions encourage others to understand and extend that protection to the unborn, even if it’s those in the Senate or the executive branch that haven’t formerly supported the legislation.”

With Governor Kasich still in office, it would initially appear as if the bill is more publicity stunt than actual attempt to pass legislation that could stop abortion. After all, if Kasich vetoed the bill six months ago, why would he sign the same bill now? But bill backers claim that it’s necessary to try again, given the entirely different political landscape.

“[Cleveland Right to Life Executive Director Molly] Smith noted the pro-life coalition carefully crafted the law using input from esteemed constitutional lawyers, including Dr. David Forte and that Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel assured Gov. Kasich any fees incurred by a court challenge would be privately paid for and would not cost the state any money,” reports Church Militant, an anti-abortion group. “She further added: ‘We knew before we put it in that there was going to be a challenge. However, when those bills were defeated … that was under Obama, with a court that was not friendly. We will be getting at least one new judge if not two new judges on the Supreme Court. This was our opportunity to do this. It would have had to go through the process — it’s a slow process — by the time we got this to [the] Supreme Court, we would have had the courts the way we needed them.'”

Unfortunately, the heartbeat ban is worrisome for another reason that can’t be overlooked: its ability to give Kasich the opportunity to support lesser “moderate” restrictions.

Also coming to the floor in Ohio is a ban on D&E abortions — a ban that, if passed, would eliminate almost all abortions after the first trimester. As we saw in December, Kasich vetoed the last heartbeat ban only to then sign into law a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks post-conception.

Now, Kasich could very well be positioning himself to once more appear “moderate,” by vetoing the extreme heartbeat ban, hoping that a 14-week abortion ban would be seen as “reasonable” in comparison.

Despite at least four attempts, Ohio has never signed a heartbeat ban into law. The question is, what other unconstitutional abortion restrictions will the people of Ohio face in exchange for having this extreme ban tabled for another year?