A bill that would outlaw abortion after the first detectable fetal heartbeat passed the Ohio legislature Tuesday and is awaiting signature on Governor John Kasich’s desk. If signed, the law would essentially ban abortion as early as six-weeks into a pregnancy, a period before many women realize they are pregnant. Exceptions would be made if the woman’s life was in danger, but not in cases of rape or incest.

The decision in Roe v. Wade dictates that states cannot restrict abortion until after a fetus has developed enough to survive outside the womb, which isn’t until approximately 24 weeks, and certainly is not six weeks. Republican lawmakers say they were emboldened by the recent election of Donald Trump and his promise to appoint pro-life justices to the Court who would overturn Roe.

But the heartbeat ban is taking the spotlight off a measure that would be more likely to hold up in federal court: a 20 week abortion ban that is also expected to come out of the Ohio state house later this week. Though the 20 week ban is still not compliant with the Court’s standard, abortion opponents believe such a bill, as opposed to the blatant unconstitutionality of the heartbeat proposal, is the best route for swaying a ruling in their direction. They also hope the heartbeat bill will allow the 20 week ban to quietly sneak across the Governor’s desk.

Several states have attempted to pass similar laws, and federal courts have struck down such measures in Arkansas and North Dakota. As of March 2016, Kasich had signed 17 anti-abortion bills into law, successfully shutting down eight of the sixteen abortion clinics in the state, though one additional has now opened for a total of nine.

Media Resources: Washington Post 12/6/16; New York Times 5/6/15; NBC News 12/8/16; Slate 12/7/16

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