Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a controversial anti-abortion bill on Wednesday that would outlaw the procedure as soon as a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, making it the latest of several states to push forward such legislation.
The bill now goes to the desk of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who has promised to sign it into law and make Ohio one of the most restrictive states for women’s reproductive rights. With his signature, women may be barred from obtaining an abortion as early as six weeks into their term ― a time when many women are still unaware that they’re even pregnant.
If enacted, doctors who violate the law will face a fifth-degree felony punishable by as much as a year in prison. Though they may perform abortions on any women whose lives are threatened by the pregnancy, there are no exceptions made for women who became pregnant through rape or incest.
Lawmakers who spoke in support of the bill during Wednesday’s vote quoted from the Bible and argued that life begins at conception.
“Is the fetus a person, regardless of the level of development? I believe it is,” Ohio state Rep. Tim Ginter (R) said, pointing to a Bible verse reading, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”
Previously, two similar abortion bans that passed through the Ohio legislature were struck down by former Republican Gov. John Kasich, who believed the law would ultimately be found unconstitutional after a lengthy, expensive court battle.
Advocates for abortion rights denounced Wednesday’s development and vowed to support the inevitable legal challenges against the bill.
“Today, the GOP majorities in the Ohio House and Senate voted to virtually outlaw abortion and drag us into a dystopian nightmare where people are forced to continue pregnancies regardless of the harm that may come to them or their family,” NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said in a statement. “We will stand in support of Ohio’s abortion providers as they challenge this attack on the public health in court.”
Democrats who opposed the bill say that the heartbeat is an arbitrary cutoff date but that the rhetoric around it falsely suggests a fetus with a detectable heartbeat could survive outside the womb
“Simply put, you need lungs and a brain in order to live,” Ohio Rep. Beth Liston (D), who is also a physician, told Cleveland.com. “And there’s no science or technology that we have that can replace that need.”
So-called fetal heartbeat laws continue to spring up around the country. Governors in Mississippi and Kentucky both recently signed similar bills, and heartbeat legislation in Florida, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas is expected to pass this year.