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Heartbeat Bill signed into law

By Maggie Prosser • Updated Apr 11, 2019 at 4:35 PM

COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine today signed into law what state legislators on both sides are labeling the strictest abortion law in the nation.

The controversial "Heartbeat Bill" — also known as Senate Bill 23, the Human Rights and Heartbeat Protection Act — will become effective 90 days after filing by the secretary of state. It was approved Wednesday by the Senate 18-13, shortly after the House passed it 56-39, despite scores of protesters both outside and inside the legislative chambers.

“Sometimes, the evolution of the law requires bold steps,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. “In the last 46 years, the practice of medicine has changed. Science has changed. Even the point of viability has changed. Only the law has lagged behind. This law provides a stable, objective standard to guide the courts.”

While Ohio had reached this stage twice before, the measure was vetoed both times by Gov. John Kasich.

But DeWine made good on his promise to sign the bill, which bans abortions, except to save the life of the woman, once a fetal heartbeat is detected. 

“Gov. Mike DeWine is the strongest pro-life governor in the nation. With a stroke of a pen, he’s saved countless lives in the state of Ohio,” said Aaron Baer, president of Citizens for Community Values. “Gov. DeWine has always been a champion of the most vulnerable and a defender of unborn children and their mothers. After nearly a decade of fighting for the Heartbeat Bill, Ohio is truly blessed to have a governor with the compassion and courage to sign this life-saving legislation.”

The bill faces a certain court battle; similar measures in other states have been put on hold by federal judges who question their constitutionality.

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."

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.

"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."

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."

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.

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."


©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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