In 2019, Ohio Passed Its Most Restrictive Abortion Law In Modern History

Dec 31, 2019

One of the Ohio Statehouse’s most notable moments this year was the passage of the controversial “Heartbeat Bill.” The controversial abortion restriction been proposed for years but never signed into law – until 2019.

The remnants from Gov. Mike DeWine’s inaugural party were barely removed from the Statehouse before the Heartbeat Bill was re-introduced into the new legislature. The bill, known officially as the “Human Rights Protection Act” this time around, banned abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

First proposed in 2011, the bill got new life when DeWine announced his support during his campaign for governor. In February, Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) said the chamber would move the bill along quickly. 

Minority Democrats like state Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) called the bill unconscionable, saying it puts the state in the position of telling doctors how to practice medicine.

“They will be challenged from making the best medical decisions for their patients,” Antonio said. “This bill will put the lives of countless Ohio women at risk.”

The bill passed the GOP-dominated legislature in 2018 but was vetoed twice by former Gov. John Kasich. This year, however, it was a priority for Ohio Right to Life, which hadn’t previously supported it.

In April, DeWine followed through on his promise and signed the bill into law. The bill contains exceptions for the life of the woman, but no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, and institutes criminal and other penalties for doctors who violate the law.

"This was a bill that was certainly a bill that I wanted to sign. I'm proud I signed it," DeWine said earlier this month.

At least six states have passed similar bills. As promised, the Ohio ACLU sued to block the law in federal court.

In July, a federal judge stopped the law from taking effect, saying it’s likely to be ruled unconstitutional. The law remains unenforceable unless the U.S. Supreme Court rules otherwise, and at this point, it is not on the court’s agenda.  

Opponents of abortion pill reversal bill gather in front of the Statehouse.
Credit Jo Ingles / Ohio Public Radio

Other Abortion Moves

In November, the Ohio Senate passed a bill promoting the unproven practice of “abortion reversal.” State Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) claims that women can reverse a two-step medication abortions by taking progesterone instead of the second abortion inducing pill, and her bill requires doctors to tell women about the procedure.

“This legislation simply gives women information on an alternative choice if they change their mind and want to continue their pregnancy," Lehner says.

However, opponents call the bill "junk science." The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it has not been scientifically tested and thinks it could have dangerous side effects. An attempted study of the procedure at the University of California, Davis was cut short this year due to safety concerns.

Republican state Rep. John Becker (R-Union Twp.) sponsored a bill banning private insurance companies from covering abortions. Critics suggested that the bill might have a side effect of banning coverage of legal birth control. The legislation would, however, cover a procedure to re-implant ectopic or tubal pregnancies, where the fertilized egg attaches outside of the womb.

“Part of that treatment would be removing that embryo from the fallopian tube and reinserting it in the uterus, so that is defined as not an abortion under this bill," Becker said.

That treatment is considered medically impossible. Jaime Miracle, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, quickly questioned its inclusion in the bill.

“That doesn’t exist in the realm of treatment for ectopic pregnancy. You can’t just re-implant. It’s not a medical thing," Miracle said.

The procedure was also promoted in an even more restrictive abortion bill, introduced by state Rep. Candice Keller (R-Middletown), that made international headlines. This bill would legally recognize a fetus as a human and would completely ban all abortions in Ohio.

Under the proposal, both doctors who provide and women who receive abortions could be charged with a capital offense. It has the backing of a full third of Republican lawmakers in the Ohio House.

“We’re tired of it being regulated. We want it ended," said Margie Christie, president of the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio.

DeWine won't say if he’d sign the total abortion ban if it passes. But he has said – and continues to say – that he wants to wait until current abortion laws work their ways through the courts.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in December agreed to re-hear a challenge to Ohio’s Down syndrome abortion ban, which was signed into law by Kasich in 2017. And abortion opponents are hoping the “Hearbeat Bill” will eventually spark a challenge the Supreme Court case “Roe v. Wade.”

“We need to wait and see what happens in the United States Supreme Court before we do anything else," DeWine said.

But many Ohio lawmakers are not as patient. The abortion bills currently on the back burner could be a powder keg waiting to explode in the 2020 election.