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Ohio becomes latest state to try to pass ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban

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(WASHINGTON) — A bill that bans abortions relatively early in a pregnancy is making its way through the legislative process in Ohio after being passed in the state’s House of Representatives.

So-called “heartbeat bills” ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which generally occurs about six weeks into a pregnancy. Opponents take issue with that time frame because in some cases, women may not even know they are pregnant yet. Ohio’s latest bill would need to be approved by the state senate before being sent to the governor for approval, but the passage by the House of Representatives is a key step in the process.

Outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed a similar bill in 2016, and a spokesperson for the governor told ABC News that his position “hasn’t changed” on the issue since he vetoed the similar bill in 2016.

Paul Beck, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, said that there is still a chance that the bill is enacted into law in spite of the governor’s potential veto.

He said that the Ohio Senate is “likely to pass it. Now, whether they will pass it by a veto proof margin, I just don’t know.”

Elizabeth Nash is a senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research group that was initially formed under Planned Parenthood but has been operating separately for years.

Nash said there are several other states that have enacted similar laws, but all have either been struck down in the courts or are currently making their way through the legal system, meaning that none of them are currently in effect.

“This could be part of the political strategy to pass multiple abortion bans that would ultimately give the U.S. Supreme Court many opportunities to overturn Roe,” Nash said, referencing the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion.

Opponents of the ban say it contradicts a woman’s federal right to safe and legal abortion under the Roe v. Wade decision. Proponents say it protects life at the moment a heartbeat can be detected.

The first state to enact a heartbeat bill was North Dakota in 2013. Arkansas passed a similar law in 2013 banning abortions at 12 weeks gestation where a heartbeat was detected.

Both of those bills were passed by state legislators and signed into law by governors, but were then challenged in court. The states then appealed those decisions to the Supreme Court, which declined to take them up. Neither state’s law is currently in effect.

Iowa passed a “heartbeat bill” focused on the six-week mark earlier this year, and it is in the throes of its own legal battle.

As everything stands now, all four states –- North Dakota, Arkansas, Iowa and Ohio –- ban abortions at 20 weeks gestation and later.

The Ohio House of Representatives passed the bill Thursday in a 58-35 vote, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

State Rep. Christina Hagan, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill, brought her newborn twin boys to the House floor during the debate over the bill Thursday, the Plain Dealer reported.

“We know when a heartbeat stops that we have lost a human life,” Hagan said, according to the newspaper.

Both the state’s House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate have Republican majorities, and incoming Gov. Mike DeWine previously said that he would approve a heartbeat bill similar to the one Kasich vetoed in 2016, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Beck said that even though past laws have been held up in the courts, the Ohio legislature is probably putting it forward in a “symbolic“ measure.

“There is a constituency out there for this kind of bill, a constituency that is very important for the Republicans in both the [Ohio] House and the [Ohio] Senate,” he said.

Nash said that the Ohio bill may move forward rather than wait for DeWine to be sworn in, however, because its supporters may already assume it will be challenged in court. Proponents may want to see this bill get further along in the legislative process before it can be challenged, Nash explained.

“Each one of these cases are slightly different. There are different facts in the case … that could make some cases more interesting to the [Supreme] Court to take up,” she said.

The movement on Ohio’s latest heartbeat bill comes after the midterm elections brought other changes to reproductive rights access across the country.

Alabama and West Virginia voters approved ballot measures that amended their respective state constitutions in ways that don’t presently change abortion rights in their states but could play a role if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

In Alabama, the ballot measure gave fetuses legal rights, and in West Virginia, the state constitution was amended to state that “nothing in this constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”

If federal abortion rights under Roe v. Wade were to go away, these states would presumably not allow abortion at all, abortion rights advocates say. Before Roe v. Wade, each state was allowed to have its own abortion laws, resulting in unequal access to the procedure.

Even after Roe v. Wade, the disparity between abortion access between states exists. On the other end of the political spectrum, in Oregon, voters rejected a ballot measure that would have banned the use of public funds for certain abortions.

Planned Parenthood leaders touted the election of governors that they said would fight back against restrictive abortion measures as wins for reproductive rights protections.

“This November, voters elected a record number of governors who will champion reproductive health care,” said Leana Wen, the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “People in states like Ohio that do not have this critical backstop face a heightened threat to abortion access. We must fight harder than ever to protect every woman’s right to control her own body, life, and future.”

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