Ohio’s Heartbeat Bill Struck Down

Despite Gov. Kasich’s veto, Americans will likely see abortion reform in the near future

by Alexandria Hentschel

Neither anti-abortion nor pro-abortion activist were satisfied with Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s decision on two recent bills concerning abortion.

Kasich line-item vetoed the controversial House Bill 493, commonly referred to as the “Heartbeat Bill.” The Heartbeat Bill was added to a larger piece of legislation about child abuse protections.

Kasich preserved the main text of the bill but vetoed the section that addressed abortion.

Put forth by the Ohio legislature, the bill would have banned abortions after a heartbeat could be detected, usually around the six-week point of gestation. However, Kasich did sign Senate Bill 127, named the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which will ban abortions after the 20-week point. The 20-week point is regarded by some medical professionals as the point at which a fetus can feel pain.

Dr. Dennis Sullivan, the director for the Center of Bioethics at Cedarville University and a physician ethicist said, “The Heartbeat Bill will not save a single life” — and he was correct.

Sullivan has testified on variants of the bill previously while serving on anti-abortion councils and boards.

The Ohio Heartbeat Bill was one of the strictest restrictions on abortion that has been put forth in recent years due to the six-week deadline on abortions. If it had passed, it would have been the strictest abortion legislation in the nation.

Sullivan offers a biological perspective on the Heartbeat Bill, which reveals that it is not gestationally significant. He believes it was intended to elicit an emotional reaction in the public and generate discussion on the issue, and that it was unlikely to be signed into law.

“The Heartbeat Bill is designed to get your heart beating,” he said. “It gets its traction from an artificial distinction, being that with ultrasound we can detect and see this little movement. We can see a heart beating. I’ve taught biology and human development for many years, and you know, there are two tubes that come together and fuse — they both are beating before they fuse, and then they synchronize and beat together. Does that mean anything? No, but it’s an emotional milestone.”

“Heartbeat Bills” have been proposed in many major states, but few made it through committee. And if they did, they were struck down swiftly thereafter by the judiciary. According to anti-abortion organization, Abort 73, about 34.6 percent of abortions occur either before or at the six-week mark, which forms a strong majority. Contrarily, only about three percent of abortions occur after the 20-week mark outlined by the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which passed.

The controversiality of the Heartbeat Bill stemmed from three sources: first, some women are unaware that they are pregnant at the six-week point of gestation; second, a doctor could potentially be imprisoned for violating the law; third, there were no provisions included in the bill for situations of rape or incest, which is the objection that many pro-abortion rights organizations raised.

According to Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, a 2004 survey (the most recent available data) revealed that abortions as a result of rape form about one percent of all abortions, where abortions due to incest make up about 0.5 percent.

Pro-abortion rights organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposed the Heartbeat Bill when it passed the Ohio Senate. The hashtag #StoptheBans trended on Twitter, and pro-abortion rights supporters rallied outside the governor’s mansion to urge him to veto the bill. The ACLU threatened to sue if either the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act or the Heartbeat Bill was passed.

Kasich stated in his veto message that the Heartbeat Bill contained certain sections that were “clearly contrary” to the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion. Though he reaffirmed his support for the anti-abortion movement, he said that fighting the losing battle to support the bill in the courts would cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the veto was therefore in the public interest.

His opinion was shared by the state’s largest anti-abortion group, Ohio Right to Life. This is largely because the bill would almost certainly be overturned.

Current Ohio law established in 2011 requires a viability test of the fetus by a doctor if an abortion is requested after the 20-week mark. This is contrary to Roe v. Wade, but it has not yet been challenged. If the Heartbeat Bill was challenged, it may have pulled this legislation into court as well, where it may have been overturned. Some, such as the President of Ohio Right to Life, Michael Gonidakis, believe that this would have increased the abortion rate.

“Such a defeat invites additional challenges to Ohio’s strong legal protections for unborn life,” Kasich said in his veto message.

Susanna Edwards, president of Cedarville University Students for Life, does not fault Kasich for vetoing the Heartbeat Bill given his reasoning.

“My first instinct was of course to call Kasich and ask him why he did this, since he considers himself a champion for human life … though he was called a betrayer, he knows that it’s such a comparatively drastic piece of legislation,” she said. “I think that it was wise, even though it was painful for him to do.”

Kasich still supports the anti-abortion movement, a stance which was made clear by his decision to pass the more moderate Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which is similar to provisions in 15 other states which have thus far been upheld. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act will become law in Ohio on March 13, assuming its constitutionality is not questioned.

Kathy Copeland, Ohio Executive Director of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), one of the oldest pro-abortion rights organizations in the country, said in a statement after the signing of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act that Kasich “thinks that by vetoing one abortion ban Ohioans will not notice that he has signed another.”

She also said that “Kasich’s actions today will fall hardest on low-income women, women of color, and young women. History will not judge Gov. Kasich’s disregard for women’s health kindly.”

Edwards, however, disagrees that Kasich’s decision will negatively impact women’s health.

“Kasich was criticized because an abortion rights activist said that his stance on passing the 20-week bill which has narrow qualifiers and doesn’t make provisions disregards women’s health,” she said. “That’s not at all true in my opinion because abortion doesn’t equal women’s health care.”

Edwards believes that the lack of regulations in abortion clinics increases the risk of injury and death for women, a view supported by some anti-abortion organizations such as Live Action.

“Making provisions and defending abortion clinics is the quickest way to harm women, not to help them,” Edwards said.

Both bills are in direct contrast to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which bans abortions until after the point of fetal viability, or the point at which a fetus could survive successfully outside the womb, which typically occurs at around 24 weeks. The fetus needs “aggressive” medical care to survive at this point according to research, but it is certainly possible. Anti-abortion advocates have been searching for a test case to overthrow Roe v. Wade since it was passed in 1973. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act’s constitutionality is in question because it violates that viability standard, making it a contender to be that test case.

Some, such as Sullivan, argue that Roe v. Wade was fundamentally incorrect in its judgments on what is and is not human life.

“The vulnerability of Roe has to do with its out-of-date understanding of fetal viability,” Sullivan said. “It was politically determined, and it made an assumption that the unborn baby is not a person … [the Supreme Court] waffled on the most important part, which is personhood. The famous analogy is if you’re a hunter and you see a flash of brown in the woods, do you shoot? No! You wait to see if it’s a person.”

Sullivan predicted correctly that Kasich would line-item veto the Heartbeat Bill but sign the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The latter, he says, has a greater potential to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“I think the Pain-Capable Bill has a much better chance of surviving constitutional scrutiny,” he said. “It bans abortion after the fetus is capable of feeling pain. What’s the value of that? If you want an emotional argument, the Heartbeat Bill is OK, but here’s this one: We’re going to take a baby that’s capable of experiencing pain and rip it apart limb by limb. Would you like to defend that? That’s a little tougher.”

The passing of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is timed coincidentally as January is National Sanctity of Human Life month. CU Students For Life plans to host a candy-gram fundraiser at the end of January, and plans to host two individuals from Created Equal to lead an anti-abortion apologetics training session in February.

Alexandria Hentschel is a freshman International Studies major and an off-campus news writer for Cedars. She enjoys old books, strong coffee, and honest debate.


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