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This photo taken June 5, 2012, outside the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, shows a large balloon in support of the Heartbeat Bill. (AP Photo | Ann Sanner)

Ohio Legislature Fails To Pass ‘Heartbeat Bill’ Over Kasich’s Veto

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The “Heartbeat Bill” has once again failed to overcome Gov. John Kasich’s veto.

Legislators returned to session after Christmas to reconsider the controversial abortion ban, and while the Ohio House managed to reach a two-thirds majority to overturn the veto, the bill did not pass the Ohio Senate.

The so-called “Heartbeat Bill” would end abortion at the point a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. It would have been one of the strictest abortion laws in the country, and was likely to prompt a court challenge.

Kasich vetoed the bill last week, calling it unconstitutional, but the Ohio legislature returned after Christmas break to overturn his veto. Both chambers needed a two-thirds majority to override the veto: The House passed it, 61-28, but the Ohio Senate came up one vote short.

As lawmakers arrived Thursday morning, dozens of opponents of the “Heartbeat Bill” carried signs and chanted outside the building. Planned Parenthood of Ohio president Iris Harvey said the protestors wanted to send a strong message to lawmakers to convince them not to override Kasich’s veto.

Harvey said the “Heartbeat Bill” is unconstitutional because it takes away a woman’s right to choose, since the ban goes into effect before many women even know they are pregnant. The bill does not require the use of a transvaginal ultrasound, which could delay the detection of a heartbeat until 12 weeks.

While Harvey and her group are pleased Kasich vetoed the “Heartbeat Bill,” she is unhappy that Kasich signed into law another bill that outlaws a procedure used in abortions performed at 12 weeks of gestation.

“We want Kasich to know we are following him in 2019,” Harvey said. “We are following him in 2020. And we are going to derail any plans he has for Washington, D.C. and the White House. No White House, no way.”

This is not the first time Kasich has vetoed the “Heartbeat Bill.” He did the same during the lame-duck session in 2016. Lawmakers back then were not able to override it. But if it came up in the next General Assembly, Governor-elect Mike DeWine has said he would sign it.

In his veto message, Kasich said defending the unconstitutional law in court would cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. Concerns over constitutionality are also cited by leaders of Ohio Right To Life, the largest anti-abortion group in the state, who previously did not support the bill.

But on Thursday, the group changed its position, announcing “it is now time to embrace the heartbeat bill as the next incremental approach to end abortion in Ohio.” The group says it will push for the bill again next session, when DeWine is in the governor’s office.

The group said it believes the U.S. Supreme Court, which now includes Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, is now “the most pro-life court we have seen in generations.” It also supported the “dilation and evacuation” procedure ban, which outlaws the most common procedure used after about 12 weeks of gestation.

The “Heartbeat Bill” doesn’t allow exceptions for cases of rape or incest, prompting some Republican lawmakers to initially vote against the bill. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Ohio Medical Association opposed the “Heartbeat Bill,” and doctors testified in committee that the bill would get in the middle of the doctor-patient relationship.

The bill does contain a narrow exception if the health of the mother is affected but some doctors who testified against the bill said it was too vague.

Bills similar to the “Heartbeat Bill” have passed in a handful of states, but courts have prevented them from going into effect. A key lobbyist for the bill’s passage, Janet Folger Porter, said Ohio’s bill is different – in part because of the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is the bill that was crafted exactly for the Supreme Court,” Porter said. “It was meant from its birth, from its conception, to be before the court. Nothing else needs to be done to this and anything else is a delay that not only hurts its chances for override, it can kill the bill and the babies it is meant to protect.”

Republican state Rep. Richard Brown, who voted against the veto override, said he thinks the bill will not stand in court. He believes if the bill ends up at the U.S. Supreme Court, justices would likely rule against it and affirm “Roe v. Wade.”

In addition to the “dilation and evacuation” ban, Ohio outlaws abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.