During the campaign, Mike DeWine, now the governor-elect, pledged to sign the “heartbeat bill” if it arrived on his desk. The measure would bar abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, perhaps as early as seven weeks into a pregnancy, or before a woman may know she is pregnant.
The legislation would all but outlaw abortion. Which helps explain why Gov. John Kasich vetoed the bill two years ago. He argued that it clashed with Supreme Court rulings upholding the right to an abortion until the fetus can live outside the womb, today about 24 weeks. The governor also noted that defending the concept could put at risk previous gains in narrowing abortion rights.
As things stand, the majorities at the Statehouse are weighing what to do about the latest version of the “heartbeat bill” during the upcoming lame-duck session. Send the legislation to the governor and then override the expected veto, or wait for DeWine to take office?
Actually, there is a third option, suggested in the position of the governor, who long has been an ardent opponent of abortion rights. The Republican majorities would do well to acknowledge the extent to which they already have limited access to abortion.
Put another way, they have done enough.
That includes a clear violation of court precedent. When the governor vetoed the “heartbeat bill,” he signed legislation banning abortion at 20 weeks. Why not now wait to see whether that controversial restriction survives legal challenges before taking a more extreme step?
All told, the past eight years, the governor and fellow Republicans in the legislature have enacted 20 provisions curbing the choice of women to seek an abortion. Today, in Ohio, for instance, a woman must receive state-designed counseling, intended largely to discourage getting an abortion. Then, she must wait 24 hours. If she chooses to go ahead with the procedure, that means making a second trip to the facility.
More, health plans offered in Ohio under the insurance exchange of the Affordable Care Act cover abortion only if the woman’s life is endangered or in cases of rape or incest. Similar limits apply in health coverage for public employees.
In 2011, there were 18 abortion clinics in Ohio. Today, the number is eight. The state has one of the most restrictive anti-abortion regimens in the country. It follows that the numbers indicate more Ohio women going to Michigan for abortion services.
Which gets to a truth in this debate. Women will seek abortions no matter what the law says or court rulings hold. The thinking behind court precedent the past 45 years is that the choice is private, best left to the woman, and if she chooses to have an abortion, the procedure must be safe, as it currently is, fewer than 0.05 percent involving complications.
In his victory speech, Mike DeWine didn’t just pay lip service to serving all Ohioans as governor. He stressed that “it will be my responsibility, and a responsibility I take very, very seriously, to pull people together.” That approach has been at work in the governor-elect pushing to the side right-to-work legislation, arguing that Ohio doesn’t need the clash.
Neither does the state need the divisiveness that would come with enacting the “heartbeat bill.” Abortion is legal, and Ohio already has done too much to restrict the right.