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Ohio legislature passes Heartbeat Bill – now ready for Gov. DeWines signature

(April 10, 2019) — Despite scores of protesters both outside and inside the legislative chambers Wednesday, Ohio lawmakers approved what both sides are labeling the strictest abortion law in the nation.

The controversial “Heartbeat Bill” was approved by the Senate 18-13, shortly after the House passed it 56-39.

While Ohio has reached this stage twice before, the measure was vetoed both times by Gov. John Kasich. But new Gov. Mike DeWine has promised to sign the bill, which would ban abortions, except to save the life of the woman, once a fetal heartbeat is detected. It was unclear Wednesday how quickly the legislation would reach DeWine’s desk or how long he would wait to add his signature.

Cincinnati Right to Life labeled the measure “the nation’s strongest pro-life bill,” while Senate Democrats said it “would become the most extreme abortion ban in the country.”

Once DeWine signs the bill, it faces a certain court battle; similar measures in other states have been put on hold by federal judges who question their constitutionality.

But backers say the new lineup on the U.S. Supreme Court — with possibly another appointment or two by President Donald Trump — could uphold such a law. While the Senate’s action Wednesday was quick, the House vote came after a few hours of contentious debate.

The audience, filled with proponents of abortion rights, broke into loud shouts of protest after the vote, unfurling a banner reading “This is not a house of worship!” Protesters in the upper galleries started chanting “Not the church, not the state, patients must decide their fate.” Many Democratic women lawmakers, all wearing pink, were visibly emotional after the demonstration.

As majority Republicans beat down every Democratic attempt to soften the anti-abortion bill, protesters outside the House chambers could be heard chanting “my body, my choice.”

In response to the protests, Mike Gonidakis, head of Ohio Right to Life, tweeted: “The Bible teaches and warns us that this world will condemn us and hate us for following God. Today is a prime example at the Statehouse.”

Democrats’ slew of amendments included ones to add exceptions for cases of rape or incest and for African-American women; to support statewide paid maternal leave; and mandate that, in solidarity, men donate blood and bone morrow when needed.

“The passage of this six-week ban on safe, legal, accessible and affordable abortion is not the will of the majority,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said in a prepared statement.

“It is the act of the minority which abused their authority to gerrymander Ohio’s legislative districts to give them the power to force their out-of-touch ideology on our state. We will work day and night to upend this attack on democracy to ensure that Ohio will once again have fair elections that result in elected officials that share our values and support reproductive freedom.”

Several Republican representatives offered religious arguments in support of the bill. Rep. Tim Ginter, R-Salem, read Scripture that, he said, justified restricting abortion access. As he did, a woman in the gallery waved a flag and a cross. House Health Committee Chairman Derek Merrin, R-Monclova — who said Tuesday in committee that abortion rights are not a religious issue — said his faith instructed him that abortion is wrong.

“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue,” said Middletown Republican Rep. Candice Keller. “This is not a religious issue. This is an issue of humanity and morality. … Every child has the right not to be killed. … They were endowed by their Creator with that right.”

Democrats argued for the health and well-being of the mother, often sharing personal testimony. “Women will be forced to make the decision between enduring financial hardship and dangerous, illegal, self-induced abortive care,” said Sen. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, who said her great-grandmother bled to death after a self-induced abortion. “These are real-life decisions. This is not black and white.”

The House Democratic leader, Rep. Emilia Sykes of Akron, said her standing in Ohio should not be dependent “by what comes out of my vagina.”

“But yet today as I stand here as the minority leader — a woman minority leader of this caucus — it is more than clear that I am a second-class citizen in this state,” she said to applause from the gallery.

Opponents of the bill say this is another step toward the GOP-controlled legislature’s ultimate agenda: a total ban on abortions.

Iris Harvey, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, said, “We will stand against the onslaught of attacks on Ohioans and will use everything at our disposal to protect their access to safe, legal abortion.”

In an emailed statement, Gonidakis acknowledged that passage of the bill represents “the next incremental step in our strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade” — the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Margie Christie, president of the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio, said, “After nine years of diligent effort, we believe this measure will pass constitutional muster and correct the erroneous Roe decision.”

Three House Republicans voted against the ban: Stephen Arndt of Port Clinton, Rick Carfagna of Westerville and Gayle Manning of North Ridgeville. Four Senate Republicans cast a “no” vote: Matt Dolan of Chagrin Falls, Stephanie Kunze of Hilliard, John Eklund of Chardon and Nathan Manning — Gayle’s son — of North Ridgeville. Otherwise, the voting was along party lines.