Ohio, Kentucky, Florida Race to Be First to Ban Abortion at Sign of Fetal Heartbeat

People taking part in an anti-abortion march hold signs as they stand on the steps Jan. 22, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Pro-life advocates have new hope of winning approval for the so-called “fetal heartbeat bill” in the Ohio Legislature this year, according to GOP Senate President Larry Obhof. If he’s wrong, two other states — Florida and Kentucky — could fill the void.

The Socialist Worker warned its readers that Ohio is just a heartbeat away from outlawing abortion because of newly elected Gov. Mike DeWine and anti-abortion activists who just won’t surrender.

“We will have a supermajority that is pro-life in both chambers in the next General Assembly. We’re getting sworn in in less than two weeks, and we have a governor coming in who has said he would sign that bill,” Obhof told reporters after the Ohio Senate failed to override then-Gov. John Kasich’s veto of the legislation in December.

He and other pro-life lawmakers will have the support of Ohio Right to Life. Marshal Pitchford, chairman of Ohio Right to Life’s board of trustees, promised to put the full force of her organization behind a new heartbeat bill.

“Ohio Right to Life believes that it is now time to embrace the heartbeat bill as the next incremental approach to ending abortion in Ohio,” Pitchford said. “Ohio Right to Life is prepared to support the current pro-life organizations working tirelessly to pass the heartbeat bill during the next General Assembly in 2019.”

PJM reported in December that the Ohio Senate failed to override then-Gov. John Kasich’s veto of heartbeat legislation by one vote.

DeWine promised during the 2018 campaign that he would not put the legislature in that position again. He vowed then to sign heartbeat legislation and repeated his commitment during an interview with WTOL-TV.

“This will be a pro-life administration,” said DeWine, who brought nine family Bibles to his swearing-in ceremony.

A week later, when the subject of the heartbeat bill came up during an interview with WVXU, DeWine added that he did not want to “speculate on a bill that has not been written yet, but…”

“Would you have signed the previous version?” WVXU’s Steve Brown asked.

“I’ve said that I would have signed the ‘Heartbeat Bill.’ I am pro-life. I think one of the essential functions of government is to protect the most vulnerable members of society and the unborn certainly come within that category,” DeWine said.

The Socialist Worker wrote that approval of heartbeat abortion legislation “would be devastating for working-class Ohioans.” Citing the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, the Socialist Worker claimed “61 percent of abortion patients in Ohio were people of color, 75 percent were economically disadvantaged, and 59 percent already had one or more children.”

“With all abortion clinics in Ohio unable to provide services under the Heartbeat Bill, Ohioans would be faced with the inconvenience of traveling out of state for an abortion, as well as having to miss work and find childcare,” the Socialist Worker added. “And they have to do this twice – once for the counseling session and once for the actual procedure.”

But Matt Borges, former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said Ohioans’ attitudes toward abortion have changed dramatically since Roe v. Wade in 1973.

“The idea of who can be kept alive,” Borges said, “the stigma that was attached to unwanted pregnancies, the perception has changed, things are different.”

If not Ohio, why not Kentucky? Sen. Damon Thayer, GOP majority leader in the Kentucky Senate, said it would be the “pinnacle of my career” if it’s Kentucky that takes it to the Supreme Court to change Roe v. Wade.

Since Republicans control both chambers of the legislature and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has promised to sign the legislation, pro-life advocates anticipate quick approval of a heartbeat bill in Kentucky this year.

Florida Republican Rep. Mike Hill introduced fetal heartbeat legislation that would require doctors to inform women seeking abortions whether the fetus has a heartbeat and offer her the opportunity to see or hear the heartbeat.

Doctors who perform abortions after a heartbeat is detected could be charged with a third-degree felony under the legislation.

Hill’s proposal would also erase the word “fetus” from Florida’s abortion laws and replace it with the phrase “unborn human being.”

Amy Weintraub, the reproductive rights program director for Progress Florida, branded Hill’s fetal heartbeat legislation the “most extreme” proposal ever submitted in the U.S.

“It’s clearly unconstitutional in every way, and it is a blatant attempt to end access to abortion care for Florida women,” Weintraub said.

Iowa has enacted fetal heartbeat legislation. But it is on hold pending a court challenge. Federal courts nixed similar laws in North Dakota and Arkansas.

Pro-life leaders are banking on Justice Brett Kavanaugh making the difference when the first of these fetal heartbeat laws reaches the Supreme Court.

However, James Bopp Jr., who served as general counsel for National Right to Life, cautioned pro-lifers like himself to not take anything for granted.

“With Justice Kavanaugh’s recent confirmation, pro-life groups gain a renewed confidence that Roe could be overturned, but this is not guaranteed,” Bopp and associate Corrine Youngs wrote in an Oct. 19 memo to Indiana’s Right to Life legislative committee.

Bopp and Youngs pointed out that only Justice Clarence Thomas has offered a judicial opinion in which he said Roe v. Wade should be overturned. And Bopp said “a major obstacle” is the Supreme Court’s historical reluctance to overturn cases already decided.

The advice from Bopp and Youngs is for pro-life legislators to recalibrate their efforts by setting more “realistic goals” than “problematic legislation” that will surely be found unconstitutional.

State Rep. Candice Keller, who introduced the 2019 version of fetal heartbeat legislation in Ohio, declared that “it’s an exciting time to be part of the pro-life movement.”

“We want to get the attention of the Supreme Court,” Keller said, “so they will think, ‘Perhaps we should look at this law again.’”