For the second consecutive session, the Ohio House has passed the controversial "heartbeat" bill, which seeks to prohibit any abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
"It gives a more consistent and reliable marker for the courts to use to determine the validity of a human baby," said Rep. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance, a prime bill sponsor. "We know that when a heartbeat stops, we’ve lost a human life."
The House voted 58-35 on Thursday to approve the bill, which does not include exceptions for rape or incest, sending it to the Ohio Senate, where it could get quick action. It takes 60 votes to override a potential veto.
Four years ago, the Ohio House voted to defeat the bill. The House and Senate passed it in December 2016, but Republican Gov. John Kasich vetoed the measure as unconstitutional, instead signing a 20-week abortion ban at the same time.
But Republican lawmakers appear to be paying the governor little regard these days — the House approved a stand-your-ground gun bill on Wednesday that Kasich has threatened to veto. And, both chambers on Wednesday overrode a Kasich veto on a state rule-making bill and now are on their way to another potential veto override over abortion.
"The point is, it’s time. It doesn’t matter if the governor is with us or against us," Hagan said. Gov-elect Mike DeWine, Ohio’s Republican attorney general who will take office Jan. 14, has said he would sign a "heartbeat" bill.
Previously, even some abortion rights opponents doubted that the billl, which would prevent an abortion after six or seven weeks of pregnancy, would withstand a court challenge. But many of those opponents have grown considerably more optimistic about overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision now that President Donald Trump has made two conservative appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The bill makes it a fifth-degree felony, carrying up to one year in prison, for any doctor that violates the prohibition and the Ohio State Medical Association opposes the bill. An attempt by Democrats to eliminate the penalty was rejected.
Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, stressed that the bill makes no exception for rape or incest. Her effort to offer an amendment to change that was blocked by a Republican procedural move.
"It’s often the case that a woman doesn’t even know she’s pregnant until after six weeks," Antonio said. "This is especially true for women who are emotionally traumatized by rape."
Forcing a victim of rape or incest, perhaps as young as 11, to carry a rapist’s child to term, Antonio said, "is a further physical violation and an extension of the loss of control over her body that she experienced originally from the assault."
The number of abortions in Ohio rose 1 percent last year, the first increase in five years and only the second increase since 2000.
The 20,893 abortions reported last year was 221 more than in 2016, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The number had been declining since 2012 and still remains far below a peak of more than 45,000 abortions in 1982.
Rep. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, said having a child, and soon to have a second, showed her how important it is for a woman to decide when to become a mother. "Motherhood should never be forced upon anyone."
She also called the bill too extreme, noting that a woman’s mental health also does not qualify as an exception to the bill.
Rep. Ron Hood, R-Ashville, told the story about how his pregnant wife, on a routine doctor’s visit, was told that the fetus no longer had a heartbeat, and they had to terminate the pregnancy. "How could someone actually do this on purpose?" he said.