November 21, 2014 — An Ohio House committee on Thursday voted 11-6 along party lines to advance a bill (HB 248) that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which can be as early as six weeks of pregnancy, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
The measure would not apply when a woman's life is in danger, but it would not allow exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest (Siegel/Candisky, Columbus Dispatch, 11/21). Under the bill, performing an abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detectable would be a fifth-degree felony (Bassett, Huffington Post, 11/20).
State lawmakers have made unsuccessful attempts to pass similar bills in recent years. A "nearly identical" bill passed the state House in 2011 but stalled in the state Senate, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
HB 248 was introduced more than one year ago but did not have a hearing until Thursday (Carr Smyth, Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/20).
Abortion-rights supporters argue that the measure would prohibit abortions prior to the time when some women become aware that they are pregnant (Huffington Post, 11/20). In addition, legal scholars contend that the bill would violate Roe v. Wade and noted that similar legislation banning early abortions in Arkansas (Act 301) and North Dakota (HB 1456) has been stuck down (Columbus Dispatch, 11/21). Both states are appealing those federal court decisions (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/8).
Meanwhile, opponents of abortion rights are divided over the measure. Ohio Right to Life, the state's largest antiabortion-rights group, opposes it. In addition, some abortion-rights opponents fear a court challenge to such a law could potentially endanger abortion restrictions that are currently in place, according to the Enquirer (Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/20).
GOP Leaders Restructure Committee To Ensure Passage
According to the Dispatch, before the vote, state House Republican leaders altered the composition of the state House Health and Aging Committee to ensure the measure's passage by replacing Republican members who were expected to vote against it.
Meanwhile, opponents of the bill argued that the measure should have received more than one hearing and that the three hours allotted for testimony prevented some witnesses from weighing in the issue (Columbus Dispatch, 11/21).
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said in a statement, "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." She added, "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" (Huffington Post, 11/20).
According to the Dispatch, state lawmakers are unlikely to take further action on the measure this year, as several Republican legislators have raised concerns. In particular, state Senate President Keith Faber (R) has noted that similar measures have been declared unconstitutional in other states (Columbus Dispatch, 11/21).
Faber said, "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" (Huffington Post, 11/20).
Gov. John Kasich (R) said he "share[s] the same concerns as Ohio Right to Life about what it could mean, but it's a long way from getting to my desk." He added that he has shared his concerns with Republican legislative leaders (Columbus Dispatch, 11/21).