The Absence of Heart in Ohio's Heartbeat Bill

Jordan Wyer, MSW

Ohio’s House of Representatives got a jump start to the holiday season with proposed abortion legislation that could essentially eliminate access to abortion care and the rights of pregnant people across the state.  House Bill 258, endearingly called the “Heartbeat Bill,” passed the State House on November 13, 2018 and is headed to the Ohio State Senate this week for approval. Though anti-abortion supporters have a catchy name and inflatable heart sign to support this legislation, the consequences it imposes is no laughing matter. HB 258 would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, except in cases where the mother’s life is in jeopardy (there are no exceptions in the bill for pregnancies as a result of rape or incest). Many times, this means that pregnant people may lose their right to abortion before they even know that they’re pregnant. Doctors who provide abortions could also be charged with a felony and face a sentence of up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine. This law is dripping with anti-abortion rhetoric and ZERO scientific evidence to back it up (like almost every other ridiculous abortion ban).

Ohio lawmakers attempted to pass similar legislation in 2016 which was vetoed by their current Governor, John Kasich. He stated his opposition was due to similar bans being struck down in courts across the country, but he still managed to appease his anti-abortion base by signing a 20-week ban for the state. It was previously thought that a six-week abortion ban would not survive a lawsuit; however, Representative Christina Hagan (R), co-sponsor of HB 258, is confident that the combination of the current presidential administration, the majority support in Ohio’s legislature to overturn another potential Governor veto, and the yes-vote guaranteed from the Governor-Elect, Mike Dewine that this bill could be one of the first to make it through Ohio’s Circuit Courts and reach the Supreme Court of the United States to challenge Roe v. Wade.

This bill can be added to the hundreds of abortion restrictions that have chipped away at abortion rights since 1973. These laws attempt to eliminate abortion without addressing the root cause, unintended and unwanted pregnancies. Ohio House Democrats proposed amendments to the bill that would ensure the women of Ohio have access to free birth control and schools could teach comprehensive sex education and contraception use. Not surprisingly, these amendments were rejected, and anti-abortion legislators prove that this is not about preventing unwanted pregnancies, but taking reproductive freedoms away from the lives of pregnant people in Ohio. This is a wake up call to those who think access to abortion is settled law.

Co-Founder of Shout Your Abortion, Lindy West, said it best last week on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah,

“Anti-choice people are not trying to stop abortion.They are trying to legislate who can and cannot have abortions. Because conservative politicians -- their wives and mistresses and daughters are always going to be able to get an abortion somewhere. ALL CRIMINALIZING ABORTION WILL DO IS KEEP PEOPLE TRAPPED IN POVERTY FOR GENERATIONS. THAT’S THE GOAL, and if that wasn’t the goal they would spend their time and money on comprehensive sex education, free birth control, and free contraception.”

We send our regards to our Midwestern neighbors to the south as clinics in Michigan prepare for the influx of patients they will inevitably see as pregnant people (continue) to cross state lines to access abortion care. This means that they will have to wait longer, travel further, and pay more for procedures performed out of state. We are watching you, Ohio. The abortion rights of your citizens will not be overturned. We have come too far.

Side Note: We are not dismissing the other radical anti-abortion bill, HB 565, that was proposed in Ohio around the same time. Even though it has received much more media attention than the heartbeat bill, the implications are not realistic. Media outlets have been silent on HB 258 while centering their focus on HB 565 which would 1) define “unborn human” in the criminal code, 2) carry new punishments for pregnant people experiencing miscarriages under “suspicious circumstances,” and 3) charge practitioners with murder. Though this bill has more dire consequences and creates an eye-catching headline, it does not have the foundation to pass as law.