Ohio has become the sixth state in the country to adopt a so-called “heartbeat bill,” making abortion illegal as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected.
State legislators representing Fulton County are on board.
The “Human Rights Protection Act,” or Senate Bill 23, was signed into law April 11 by Gov. Mike DeWine, and is scheduled to take effect 90 days later. The stringent bill will forbid most abortions, some as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy. It includes an exception in cases where the woman’s life is in danger, but still prohibits abortion in cases of rape and incest.
The “heartbeat bill” makes performing abortions after a heartbeat is detected a fifth-degree felony, leaving doctors to face a possible year-long prison term and up to a $20,000 fine.
Current state law bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The “heartbeat bill” passed the state House and Senate in March, but not before being vetoed twice in 2018 by former Gov. John Kasich, who said it would cost too much to defend in court. Now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has vowed to fight the bill as unconstitutional.
Reportedly, the bill may also cause the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the validity of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion up to 22-24 weeks into pregnancy.
District 47 State Representative Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) co-sponsored the legislation. “It’s important that all life is protected in our state, and unborn children have a right to be protected,” he said.
That includes those who are the product of rape or incest, he added, saying, “I believe all children should be protected.”
Merrin called Roe v. Wade “a legal travesty,” and said he would welcome a fresh look at the landmark ruling.
“Hopefully, a new court will have respect for the law and human life,” he said.
District 1 Senator Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) supports the “heartbeat bill,” saying, “As Americans, the fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should be guaranteed to all of our citizens, including those who have yet to be born.”
McColley said that should include babies born as the result of rape or incest, factors the bill doesn’t consider.
“While my heart breaks for victims of rape or incest, the fact remains that the unborn baby did not choose his or her mother or father or the circumstances under which he or she would be born,” he said.
And he challenged the American Civil Liberties Union argument that the bill is unconstitutional, saying original Supreme Court holdings on abortion were based on outdated medical science. McColley said medical advances have shown that babies feel pain and develop core functions much earlier than was thought possible when Roe v. Wade was argued.
“The time has come for us to take a new look at this in the light of these medical advances and out of respect for human life,” he said.
McColley said he anticipates a lawsuit being filed against the bill. He said he hopes Supreme Court justices placed by President Donald Trump “will look at this from the proper angle of considering the innocent and vulnerable life of the unborn.”
The ACLU office in Cleveland did not return requests for comment.
District 81 State Representative Jim Hoops said he fully supports the “heartbeat bill.”
“When there’s a heartbeat, there’s a life,” he said. But Hoops also stressed the need to support the new mother after birth, including awareness of adoption.
“We must make sure the mother and baby have support financially and emotionally. That all plays into it. We have to be there to support,” he said.
He said the success of the ACLU’s fight to overturn the legislation will depend on the judges making up the state’s Supreme Court.
“We’ll see what the Supreme Court says about new technology and information. A lot of things have changed, and they’ve found that it is a heartbeat and it is a life,” Hoops said.
Regarding the ban involving cases of rape and incest, he added, “It is a very emotional issue. I feel for (the women), but I also feel that it’s still a life that we’re dealing with. We need to make sure we support women who had something happened to them.”
As for the possible challenge to Roe v. Wade, Hoops said everyone is entitled to the Constitution’s stand on life, liberty, and happiness. “The baby that’s inside the mother’s womb should have the same rights as everyone else,” he said.
District 2 Senator Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) said Ohio takes a stand for the unborn, whom she considers the most vulnerable of people.
”I am proud that we have taken this crucial step to protect the beating hearts of Ohio’s children, standing in contrast to states like New York and Virginia, which are headed in the wrong direction,” she said.
New York law allows abortions after 24 weeks if a medical professional determines the mother’s life is at risk or that the fetus isn’t viable. A proposed Virginia law, House Bill 2491, would negate, among other provisions, the requirement for second and third trimester abortions to be performed in a hospital.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.