On November 15th, the Ohio House of Representatives voted 60-35 in favor of passing H.B. 258, they aptly nicknamed “Heartbeat Bill,” which would revise the state code to generally ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
While the vote was mostly split along party lines, two Democrats, Bill Patmon-District 10 and Glenn Holmes-District 65, voted in favor of the bill. Additionally, six Republicans, Marlene Anielski-District 6, Steven Arndt-District 89, Rick Carfagna-District 68, Nathan H Manning-District 55, Anne Gonzales-District 19, and Mike Duffey-District 21, voted against the bill.
In a show of support for the bill, Representative Christina Hagan-District 50 brought her new twin sons to the House for the floor debate on Thursday and stated, “We know when a heartbeat stops that we have lost a human life."
The bill adds several new sections to the Ohio Revised Code. The most contentious addition is Section 2919.195, which states, “[N]o person shall knowingly and purposely perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman 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.”
Section 2919.192 reads, “A person who intends to perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman shall determine whether there is a detectable fetal heartbeat of the unborn human individual the pregnant woman is carrying.”
Therefore, if a woman is trying to get an abortion, an ultrasound must be done to see if there is a detectable fetal heartbeat. If a fetal heartbeat is detected, then no elective abortion can be done.
A developing human’s heartbeat begins around 3 weeks post-fertilization (or 5 weeks gestational age). While many news outlets are saying the bill will effectively ban all abortions after the first 6 weeks of pregnancy — before some women even know they are pregnant — that is not entirely true since a fetal heartbeat is not usually detectable by transvaginal ultrasound until 6 weeks at the earliest, or transabdominal ultrasound until 7 or even 8 weeks gestational age.
Many people are also expressing worry the bill will prevent doctors from taking care of their pregnant patients in cases of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.
ThinkProgress reports, “The bill actually prevents doctors from helping patients unless giving birth could threaten the patient’s life or lead to a ‘substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.’”
Dr. Daniel Grossman, professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a series of tweets about Ohio’s bill: “Prior to 6 weeks, it can be hard to tell if a patient has a complication, like an ectopic pregnancy -- a pregnancy developing outside the uterus. Bills like this keep me from caring for patients experiencing ectopic pregnancies & miscarriages. It’s the opposite of healthcare. Waiting to intervene on an ectopic pregnancy could put a patient at risk of having the ectopic rupture, or continuing a painful miscarriage. It could put a patient at risk of heavy bleeding an infection, even if the embryo has a ‘heartbeat’.”
These statements are completely false and demonstrate a clear misunderstanding of H.B. 258.
While the bill does not make exceptions to the heartbeat ban for cases of rape or incest, opting rather to protect the life of the innocent preborn child even in those dire circumstances, it does allow two exceptions: to prevent the death of or “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” of the pregnant woman, and if the pregnancy is extra-uterine. If in the physician’s good-faith judgment, one of these two scenarios is true, then an abortion is allowed even after detection of a fetal heartbeat.
There is nothing which would prevent a doctor from helping a pregnant patient if the doctor believes his or her patient has an ectopic pregnancy — since the bill states this as an explicit exception — or miscarriage, since a miscarried child would no longer have a heartbeat and therefore Section 2919.195 would not be applicable. A doctor would not need to wait until either of those situations becomes life-threatening to the woman before treating her.
The bill also creates a new joint legislative committee on adoption promotion and support. The committee’s priority would be the “study or review of mechanisms intended to increase awareness of the process [of adoption in Ohio], increase its effectiveness, or both.” It would be comprised of three people from the House and three from the Senate, with no more than two from each belonging to the same political party.
The bill now has to get through the Senate and be signed into law by the Ohio Governor. The current governor is John Kasich, who has vetoed a similar bill and said he would veto a bill like this again.
Currently, there are three major options for pro-life legislators.
- If the Senate puts the bill on the floor and tries for a vote before the second Monday in January, and it passes yet gets vetoed by Gov. Kasich, a 3/5 majority in both the House and Senate could overturn the veto.
- If the bill gets vetoed and does not get the 3/5 majority needed to override the veto, the House and Senate could pass the bill again once Mike DeWine takes office in January. DeWine has already promised to sign a heartbeat bill if it came to his desk.
- Alternatively, the Senate could sit on the bill and not bring it to the floor for debate and vote until after DeWine takes office, to avoid a possible veto altogether.
Whatever route is taken, it seems Ohio may be positioned to make the biggest step forward for pro-life legislation of any state, and if passed, H.B. 258 will almost certainly be challenged in the courts, with the possibility of going all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.