Ohio legislators approve what would be the country’s toughest restriction on abortion

Ohio Gov. John Kasich
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

With little notice and stunning quickness, legislators in Ohio stand one signature away from enacting the nation’s most stringent abortion law in the hopes of sparking a nationwide reversal of the legal right of women to terminate their pregnancies.

With a day left in their annual session, lawmakers on Wednesday delivered to Gov. John Kasich a revived “heartbeat bill,” a ban on abortions from the moment a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as five or six weeks from conception. They left no exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, but abortions would be permitted to save the life of a pregnant woman.

“No person shall knowingly and purposefully perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman,” the bill reads, “with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of the unborn human individual the pregnant woman is carrying and whose fetal heartbeat has been detected.”


The legislation has already drawn promises of legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union, even before Kasich decides whether to cast a veto.

The Ohio Senate passed the abortion-ban amendment to an unrelated bill concerning child-abuse reporting on Tuesday afternoon, then passed the bill itself and sent it to the Ohio House, which voted 56-39 on Tuesday night to send the bill to Kasich for his signature.

Within hours, a Midwestern state that had already placed a number of restrictions on abortions opened the door to a new round of legal challenges on an issue likely to be key under President-elect Donald Trump, who will be nominating at least one U.S. Supreme Court justice early in his new administration.

Conservative Ohio legislators mentioned Trump specifically in explaining the timing of their action.

“New president, new Supreme Court nominees changed the dynamic, and there was a consensus in our caucus to move forward,” Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, a Republican who opposed a similar bill in 2014, told WHIO-TV on Tuesday. “I think the issue is still one that’s about tactics and strategy.”

At the time of his original vote against such restrictions in 2014, Faber said he didn’t see a difference between a six-week ban and an outright abortion ban, which is unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade ruling legalizing abortion nationwide.


Previous abortion limits that centered on detecting a fetal heartbeat have failed in the courts, and Kasich in 2014 said he was unsure of such a bill’s constitutionality when an Ohio House committee sent a fetal-heartbeat bill to the floor, where it failed.

Kasich, who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP presidential nomination this year, has generally favored moderate restrictions on abortion. “I am pro-life with the exceptions of rape, incest and the life of the mother,” he said on CNN in February.

On Wednesday, his office declined to elaborate on his position on the constitutionality of fetal heartbeat legislation.

“A hallmark of lame duck is a flood of bills, including bills inside of bills,” said Kasich spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach, “and we will closely examine everything we receive.”

Ohio already has a fetal viability law, which forbids abortion if a doctor determines a fetus has a reasonable chance of viability.

So-called heartbeat bills were passed in Arkansas, over the veto of then-Gov. Mike Huckabee, and in North Dakota, only to lose upon legal challenges.


Trump’s position on abortion has been difficult to pinpoint. In a presidential debate, he said the Roe vs. Wade decision would be overturned as he names conservative justices to the high court. Trump said in the same debate that the issue of abortion should be left to individual states.


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2:05 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Gov. John Kasich’s office.

This article was originally published at 12:35 p.m.