On Monday, John Kasich renewed his pledge to veto two controversial bills approved by the Ohio House last week. The governor’s reasoning remains sound. One measure would bar abortion at the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The other would end the duty first to retreat, or seek to avoid the use of use deadly force when threatened. Both bills still must pass the state Senate, though that result is expected in the current lame-duck session.
Republican legislative leaders have chosen not to wait for the new year, when Mike DeWine will move into the governor’s office. The governor-elect has signaled he would sign both bills. The Republican majorities appear determined to make a run at overriding the promised Kasich vetoes, passage in the House coming by veto-proof margins.
What that approach brings is an opportunity to highlight the misguided, and even extreme, thinking behind the measures. Neither is good for the state.
There isn’t a problem that would be solved by ending the duty to retreat. The obligation doesn’t bar someone from using deadly force when facing danger. The law currently allows for such action. Those who opt for deadly force simply have the burden of proof to show they acted in self-defense. That serves as a reasonable deterrent against rash actions.
Under the “stand your ground” legislation, the burden of proof would shift. Prosecutors would have to show a defendant did not act in self-defense. No surprise the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association opposes the bill, noting, among other things, that a defendant today in proving self-defense faces the lesser standard of a preponderance of the evidence.
The Fraternal Order of Police also stands in opposition, concerned that parties in a confrontation would have less incentive to try to defuse a situation.
For his part, the governor, hardly an opponent of gun rights, is frustrated with fellow Republicans failing to embrace his sensible yet modest proposals for gun regulation, including allowing a judge to seize the guns of those proved a danger to themselves or others. These proposals reflect a consensus of former state lawmakers, all gun rights supporters, brought together by the governor.
That the Republican majority has rejected compromise testifies to the grip of the gun lobby. More, it points to the remove of many lawmakers from the problems of urban gun violence, something state Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Cleveland Democrat, rightly sought to explain in the debate.
In recent years, the Republican majorities have enacted many restrictions on abortion rights. They have had the support of the governor in doing so, including a ban after 20 weeks into a pregnancy, a threshold that violates Supreme Court precedent based on the concept of viability.
That the governor has drawn a line at the “heartbeat” bill frames how extreme the measure is. A fetal heartbeat can be detected around seven weeks, or in many instances before a woman knows she is pregnant. Thus, the measure would all but ban abortion in the state. It does not include exceptions for rape or incest.
This bill is about launching a legal fight to deny women what now is their legal right. The reality in such a law enduring isn't that women would stop seeking abortions but that many procedures would be less safe. So the governor has good reason to make passage of the bill more difficult, reinforcing that lawmakers have gone way too far.