Gov. Mike DeWine delivers his first State of the State address
Gov. Mike DeWine delivers his first State of the State address inside the Ohio House chambers at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. [Andy Chow | Statehouse News Bureau]

DeWine Signs Bill Banning Most Abortions In Ohio

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The six-week abortion ban known as the “Heartbeat Bill” is now law in Ohio.

Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill Thursday afternoon, just one day after it passed the Republican-led General Assembly. The law is slated to take effect in 90 days, unless blocked by a federal judge.

Now known as the “Human Rights Protection Act,” SB 23 outlaws abortions at the point a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That bans the practice as early as five or six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant.

The bill does include an exception to save the life of the woman, but no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

“Government’s role should be to protect life from the beginning to the end,” DeWine said.

Ohio is the sixth state to institute a version of the “Heartbeat Bill.” Federal judges in several other states have blocked the laws or struck them down as unconstitutional. Another bill in Georgia has yet to be signed by the governor.

DeWine’s signature will set off a lengthy legal fight. The ACLU announced it would sue to stop the law, which the group says “virtually bans all abortion care.”

“We’ll see you in court,” tweeted the ACLU on Thursday.

Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups also promised lawsuits over the “Heartbeat Bill.”

“If this is what it takes, we will see you at the Supreme Court,” said Planned Parenthood of Ohio president Iris Harvey at a rally Wednesday outside the Statehouse.

But DeWine and lawmakers said they aren’t dissuaded by the threat of legal action. Since taking office in January, DeWine said he planned to sign whichever version of the “Heartbeat Bill” ended up on his desk.

“Will there be a lawsuit? Yeah, we are counting on it,” said state Rep. Ron Hood (R-Ashville) on Wednesday. “We’re counting on it. We’re excited about it.”

Anti-abortion groups such as Ohio Right To Life say they intend the “Heartbeat Bill” to trigger a U.S. Supreme Court case striking down the 1973 “Roe v. Wade” decision.

The Ohio Senate originally passed the “Heartbeat Bill” last month. The Republican-led House Health Committee then made several changes to the bill before sending it to the House floor, where it passed by party-line vote.

Beyond changing the name, the Ohio House version protects the use of trans-vaginal ultrasounds to determine a fetal heartbeat. Such devices allow heartbeats to be detected even earlier in a pregnancy.

The bill institutes criminal penalties for doctors who violate the law. Doctors who perform abortions after detecting a heartbeat would face a fifth-degree felony and up to a year in prison. The legislation also allows the State Medical Board to take disciplinary actions against doctors found in violation and impose penalties of up to $20,000.

After hearing testimony from lawmakers and advocates, the Ohio House passed the bill Wednesday afternoon, 56-40, and the Ohio Senate quickly followed to affirm the changes, 18-12.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) criticized the bill’s passage in a statement Wednesday, urging DeWine to veto the legislation: “Healthcare decisions should be made between women and their doctors, not Republican legislators. Gov. DeWine should veto this measure immediately and lawmakers in Columbus should stop the unrelenting attacks on women’s healthcare.”

Currently, Ohio prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and lawmakers in 2018 passed a law banning the “dilation and evacuation” method of abortion used most commonly after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The latter was blocked from taking effect by a federal judge in March.

The Ohio Senate in March passed another bill requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains. The bill is now being considered in the Ohio House.

Legislators attempted several times before to pass the “Heartbeat Bill,” but the legislation was twice vetoed by former Gov. John Kasich, who warned it would prove costly for the state to defend in court.