Republican lawmakers in Ohio on Thursday advanced a bill that would ban abortion as soon as the fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
H.B. 248, the so-called "Heartbeat bill," advanced out of the House Health and Aging Committee by a party-line vote of 11 to 6. If it passes the Republican-controlled House and Senate, doctors who perform abortions after the imposed limit would face a fifth-degree felony. Opponents warn the bill would ban abortions before some women even realize they're pregnant.
“The members of the Health Committee are so callous that they refused to add amendments to provide exceptions for victims of rape and incest or to remove criminal penalties that could be used to imprison doctors that provide abortion care," said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. "The chilling effect of this crusade is being felt throughout the medical community and will no doubt result in talented physicians leaving Ohio to practice in other states.”
Only one state in the country, North Dakota, has ever passed an abortion bill as extreme as the one pending in Ohio, and the North Dakota bill was struck down and declared "unconstitutional" by a federal judge in April.
Supporters of the Ohio bill argued during the committee meeting that the heartbeat is undeniable proof of life. But the president of the state Senate, Keith Faber (R), said he's worried the bill is so extreme that it could undermine the anti-abortion cause. “I have grave concerns that if the Heartbeat Bill were to be passed, it would jeopardize some of the good, pro-life work that we've done in the General Assembly," he said.
The state Senate blocked an earlier version of the bill last year. Then-Senate President Tom Niehaus (R) said at the time that lawmakers wanted to "focus on jobs and the economy."
Ohio is steadily making it harder for women in the state to obtain legal abortions. Existing anti-abortion laws are expected to shut down all of the Cincinnati-area abortion clinics, and the state Senate on Wednesday approved the nomination of Rick Hodges, an opponent of legal abortion, to lead the Ohio Department of Health. Reproductive rights advocates pointed out that Hodges, a former Republican state lawmaker, has no experience working in public health.
“The confirmation of Rick Hodges is a huge step backward and is an assault on the rights of Ohio women by politicians pushing their personal ideologies," said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "We insist on the appointment of qualified men and women for posts in charge of public health decisions and safeguarding the programs that keep our families safe. We demand accountability for anyone who puts partisan politics over sound public policy."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said Hodges has the "management ability" to run the heath department and will have assistance "recruiting an expert clinical team."