Ohio key battleground in abortion fight

‘Heartbeat bill’ likely to return this year.

Ohio is at the frontline in a battle over abortion rights that continues to rage on 44 years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe versus Wade


“I would argue, and we have the data to back this up, that Ohio and Texas are the key battleground states for the abortion debate. What happens in Ohio tends to trickle to other states,” said Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis. “We are the test market, as well as Texas, for what we can and can’t get done. It’s exciting to be at the forefront.”

In the span of just 48 hours in early December, Ohio lawmakers passed a ban on abortions performed after 20 weeks gestation and a ban once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six-weeks – when many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed the so-called “heartbeat bill” in December, but it’s likely coming back.

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, said he believes the heartbeat bill will be re-introduced in the new legislative term. And earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced a federal heartbeat bill.

Ohio Right to Life, which did not endorse the heartbeat bill, will continue its long-held strategy in 2017 of advancing incremental restrictions, Gonidakis said. The group is lobbying lawmakers now to support half a dozen bills, though Gonidakis declined to say what those may be.

Kasich said at a press conference this month that he is “pretty satisfied” with the current abortion restrictions in Ohio but he’ll consider other legislative propopsals as they come.

Until the heartbeat bill crossed his desk, Kasich had embraced every restriction, funding cut and regulatory impediment that abortion foes pitched his way. Some abortion opponents oppose the heartbeat bill out of a fear the movement could suffer a setback if it becomes law only to be ruled unconstitutional.

Pro-choice advocates say the GOP-controlled legislature in Ohio has already erected numerous hurdles to abortion.

NARAL ProChoice Ohio lists 18 items signed by Kasich that restricts access to abortion or reproductive care, including: defunding Planned Parenthood, requiring abortion clinics to have transfer agreements with hospitals within a 30-mile radius, the new ban on abortions after 20 weeks gestation, a prohibition on public hospitals performing abortions or holding transfer agreements with clinics, stricter standards for juveniles seeking judicial bypass instead of parental consent to terminate their pregnancies, and requiring physicians to perform an ultrasound to detect a fetal heartbeat 24 hours before performing an abortion.

With more restrictions in place, seven of 16 abortion clinics have shut their doors in the past several years.

“This is a constitutionally protected right. This is a safe and legal medical procedure,” said Kellie Copeland of NARAL ProChoice Ohio. “If women have made the decision to access that care, they should be able to do so without interference from the state.”

Gonidakis said Americans who view abortion simply as a medical procedure should re-evaluate their values and views.

“It’s just not some other outpatient procedure,” he said. “It’s not.”

Abortions performed in Ohio have been steadily declining over the past 15 years to 20,976 in 2015, according to statistics kept by the Ohio Department of Health. That is less than half of the number performed in 1982 when Ohio’s abortion number surpassed 45,000. Copeland attributes the decline to better access to contraceptives as well as the new legal restrictions and administrative hurdles.

Roe v Wade remains a lightning rod in the abortion wars, and anti-abortion groups are gearing up to overturn it now that they have a president in office who opposes abortion.

On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Roe v Wade that women have the constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies. The ruling came in a case that challenged a Texas law that outlawed abortion except when the life of the mother was in danger. It also gave the state the power to regulate abortion to protect the health of the mother and that authority increased as a pregnancy progressed. Once a fetus is viable outside the womb, the state has an interest in protecting that potential life with restrictions on abortions.

Over the past 20 years, polling shows more than six in 10 Americans oppose completely overturning Roe, according to the Pew Research Center. Democrats and independents are largely opposed to overturning it while Republicans are closely divided, the pollsters found.

On the campaign trail, Republican Donald Trump pledged to appoint “pro-life” justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said at a news conference this month that he would nominate a candidate to fill the seat held by the late Antonin Scalia within about two weeks of his inauguration.

And Trump told 60 Minutes in November that if Roe is overturned, regulation — even outright bans — would be up to the states. He acknowledged that might mean women would have to travel to other states to obtain abortions.

Overturning Roe would be a sea change for millions of women.

“It would be an incredible shift. I think people who are middle age and younger, not having that constitutional right and access to that procedure is something they’ve never experienced,” Copeland said. “It would be a radical change.”

It would also come with a political price, according to Copeland.

“To roll back such a fundamental right to make one’s medical decisions and have autonomy over one’s body is not something that would be soon forgotten,” she said.

Significant abortion rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court:

1973: Roe v Wade. The court overturned a Texas law that banned all abortion except when the life of the mother was in danger. The ruling decided that states cannot prohibit abortion, except after a fetus reaches viability outside the womb.

1976: Planned Parenthood v. Danforth. The court overturned a Missouri law that requires a woman obtain her husband's permission for an abortion.

1980: Harris v McRae. The court uphehld a federal law that restricts Medicaid funding for abortions to only when the mother's life is in danger, rape or incest.

1989: Webster v Reproductive Health Services. The court upheld a Missouri law that barred public facilities from being used to perform abortions, defined life as beginning at conception and required doctors to perform viability tests on women who were 20 or more weeks into their pregnancies.

1990: Hodgson v Minnesota. The court ruled against a Minnesota law requiring minors obtain parental consent for an abortion.

1992: Planned Parenthood v Casey. The court ruled that states may enact laws that require pre-abortion counseling and other restrictions as long as they don't place an undue burden on the woman.

2000: Stenberg v Carhart. The court ruled against a Nebraska law that prohibits dilation and extraction procedures, also known as partial-birth abortions.

2003: President George W. Bush signed a law prohibiting certain abortion procedures. It's known as the Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003.

2007: Gonzalez v Carhart and Gonzalez v Planned Parenthood. The court upheld the Partial Birth Abortion Act.

2016: Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. The court ruled unconstitutional a Texas law that mandates physicians performing abortions have admitting privileges at area hospitals and that clinics have facilities comparable to an ambulatory surgical center. The court decided those regulations constitute an undue burden on abortion access.

Sources: Stateline.org, SCOTUSblog.com, Dayton Daily News research

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