Ohio state Sen. Kris Jordan (R-Ostrander) introduced a bill Thursday that would ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.
SB 297 allows abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected only to preserve the life or health of the pregnant woman. It contains no exceptions for rape or incest, and would make performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected a fifth-degree felony. The bill also would create a joint legislative committee to promote adoption, and allow a woman who has had an abortion to file a civil suit against the physician for the “wrongful death of her unborn child.”
Another heartbeat ban passed the state house in 2011 but failed to pass the senate, and it has not received hearings or a vote since being reintroduced in the house in 2013. The recent senate reintroduction came the day before a federal court permanently struck down another extreme abortion ban in Arkansas, which would have banned the procedure after 12 weeks and defined viability as beginning with a fetal heartbeat. Attorneys who sued to block that law successfully argued that it unconstitutionally restricted abortion before a fetus is viable.
In a statement, Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, re-named the bill the “Heartless Abortion Ban” and said, “It’s bad enough that Governor Kasich is abusing his regulatory authority in an attempt to close abortion clinics in our state, now we have Senator Jordan trying to effectively outlaw the procedure. Ohio women are fed up with politicians interfering with their medical decisions and they will make that known when they go to the polls in November.”
In accusing Kasich of “abusing his regulatory authority,” Copeland was referring to new abortion restrictions the governor signed into law as part of the state budget last summer. Under the new rules, the state health department can deny abortion clinics, for any reason, a “variance” that is required by law if the clinic cannot obtain a transfer agreement with a local hospital. The health department has denied a variance request in one case already and ordered the Women’s Med Center in Sharonville to close, although the order is being appealed. Three other clinics are in danger of being closed for the same reason; if that happened, there would be no abortion clinics in the western half of the state.
News reports have noted that abortion access in Ohio is dwindling because of recent clinic closures and because of a catch-22 in the new laws that requires clinics to obtain a transfer agreement with a local hospital, while also forbidding public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with abortion clinics. Public hospitals can’t perform abortions themselves either. That only leaves private hospitals, which are often religiously affiliated or otherwise unwilling to get involved in the politically charged issue of abortion.
North Dakota is the only state to pass a ban on abortion as early as Ohio is proposing, and that law is currently blocked by courts. Alabama proposed a heartbeat ban this year that has so far passed the state house, while another heartbeat ban died in committee in Mississippi, and another in Kentucky is unlikely to move.