The seventh-largest state in the U.S. has enacted a law to protect unborn babies from abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed the Human Rights Protection Act on Thursday after it passed the state House by a margin of 56-40 and the state Senate by a margin of 18-13. (Similar bills had passed the state legislature in 2016 and 2018 but were vetoed by then Gov. John Kasich.)
The law prohibits abortionists from aborting any baby once a fetal heartbeat can be detected — usually around six to eight weeks into the pregnancy — except in cases of physical danger to the mother if the pregnancy continues. Notably, women seeking an abortion after that point would not face any legal penalties. Penalties fall solely on the abortionist performing the procedure, who would face up to a year in prison and suspension of his medical license. Women will also be able to sue abortionists for wrongful death of their unborn babies.
Democrats fiercely opposed the bill, condemning it as “anti-choice,” and tried to add “poison pill” amendments to it. One Democratic legislator, Rep. Janine Boyd of Cleveland, proposed an amendment exempting African-American women from the law. She claimed that the amendment would help America move past the painful legacy of slavery, while failing to recognize that her profoundly discriminatory amendment would mean only African-American babies could be killed in utero. While Democrats claimed the bill was harmful to women, state Rep. Candice Keller of Middletown said the act was “the most compassionate bill we’ve ever passed” because it protects babies and women from exploitation.
Ohio is the fifth and largest state to enact a ban on abortion after the child’s heartbeat can be detected. The others are Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Tennessee, where the laws are under legal challenge. The ACLU is already preparing a lawsuit on behalf of four abortion clinics, so the bill will likely only be in effect for a matter of days before a judge can be found to put it on hold.
But the Ohio law is a major shot across the bow in the effort to recognize the lives of unborn babies. Medicine and science have advanced relentlessly in the 46 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, and for decades mothers have been able to hear the heartbeats of their children in utero. Millennials, who are the most pro-life generation, grew up meeting their brothers and sisters before they were born thanks to sonograms.
Pro-lifers are cautiously optimistic about laws like Ohio’s heartbeat bill. Former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who infamously withdrew what would have been a deciding vote to overturn Roe in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey and instead voted to uphold it, is gone and has been replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. And while conservatives are apprehensive about Kavanaugh’s stance on abortion — and Chief Justice John Roberts’ drift to the left — the Supreme Court may finally be ready to reconsider Roe nearly five decades later, and Ohio’s law may be the case by which they choose to do it.