Yesterday, June 28th 2011, the Ohio House passed three different pieces of anti-abortion legislation. They will all limit access to abortion but in varying degrees. One is a bill that prohibits insurance companies in the health insurance exchange (as part of the federal healthcare reform) from providing abortion coverage. Another prohibits abortions after 20 weeks based on theories that a fetus can feel pain as soon as 20 weeks gestation and that a fetus may be viable at that stage of development. The third and most restrictive bill passed was the so called “Heartbeat Bill” which bans all abortions after a heartbeat can be detected in the fetus. As part of the debate, its sponsors actually had a fetus testify in support of the bill. While the detection of a heartbeat is being used to justify an anti-abortion agenda; the bill and its supporters ignore and trample the rights of a pregnant woman. It would make it close to impossible for most women to get the abortions they want and need. To make things even more heartless, there is no exception for cases of rape or incest.
Although the specific time frame can vary, the heart is one of the first organs to develop and so a heartbeat can be detected as soon as six weeks in most pregnancies. That is well before the fetus is able to viably exist on its own and as such cannot be enforced without infringing on the constitutional rights of a pregnant woman. By six weeks, many women are only just realizing they are pregnant; women who have irregular menstrual cycles could take even longer to realize it. Many providers prefer not to give surgical abortions before the fetus can be seen in an ultrasound (usually around 5 or 6 weeks) because there is an increased risk of a failed abortion. Surgical abortions are usually more cost effective then medical abortions and some women may prefer to have the full procedure done with the doctor present; in a medical abortion a miscarriage is induced at home so no doctor is there. This bill would leave women with only the option of a medical abortion and only if they discover the pregnancy in time.
This partnered with the viability standard make this bill unlikely to pass the Senate; it essentially eliminates a woman’s ability to get an abortion during the first trimester; a time frame that the U.S. Supreme Court has already declared abortion access cannot be limited. Some of the Heartbeat Bill’s supporters have admitted they don’t think the bill is constitutional but that didn’t stop them from voting for it. Even the president of Ohio Right to Life has publicly denounced the bill for that exact reason- the bill would be overturned by the Supreme Court and would end up adding another precedent to support a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body. Though I have to wonder if maybe that’s the point, maybe they are hoping the controversy surrounding the Heartbeat Bill’s constitutionality will detract attention away from the 20 week ban bill and allow it to fly through the Senate under the radar and unchallenged by the people.
The next step for these bills will be to go to the Republican controlled Senate and if passed there, to the Governor to be signed into law. At a minimum the two tamer bills are very likely to be passed; the Senate has actually already passed a similar 20 week abortion ban. In spite of the future inevitable legal issues that will arise, some people speculate the “Heartbeat Bill” will also pass.