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'Heartbeat Bill' Passes Ohio Legislature As Opponents Promise Lawsuit

Gov. Mike DeWine at his State of the State address at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, March 5, 2019.
Gov. Mike DeWine at his State of the State address at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, March 5, 2019.

Over protests from Democrats and pro-choice advocates, the Republican-led Ohio House on Tuesday passed a more restrictive version of the "Heartbeat Bill."

SB 23 outlaws abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they're pregnant. There are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

The final House vote was 56-39, as protests erupted in the chamber.

The Ohio Senate passed the measure last month, but must approve changes made in the House before sending it to the governor's desk. A Senate session was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, signaling that Republican leaders plan to take up the legislation immediately.

Gov. Mike DeWine has said he supports the "Heartbeat Bill." If signed into law, the bill would make Ohio one of the strictest states in the nation when it comes to abortion.

Among the changes made by the House Health Committee was the bill's name: It's now called the "Human Rights Protection Act." The bill adds criminal penalties to doctors found guilty of performing abortions, and allows for the use of trans-vaginal ultrasounds to detect fetal heartbeats. Such devices allow heartbeats to be detected even earlier in a pregnancy.

The House Health Committee approved the changes along party lines Tuesday, setting it up for Wednesday's full-chamber vote. Ahead of the final tally, Democrats proposed amendments to allow exemptions for cases of rape and incest, remove the state statute of limitations on rape, and exempt African-Americans from the restrictions. All were defeated.

The Ohio General Assembly has twice before passed versions of the "Heartbeat Bill," both times meeting a veto from former Gov. John Kasich. Republican lawmakers, who control both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly, were unable to overturn his vetoes at the time.

This time around, backers garnered the support of Ohio Right To Life, which previously declined to give its endorsement. But with a new governor and a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, the anti-abortion group said it hopes to provoke a legal challenge to overturn the 1973 decision "Roe v. Wade."

That legal challenge may come soon: Planned Parenthood promised Wednesday to file suit against Ohio if DeWine signs the "Heartbeat Bill" into law.

"If this is what it takes, we will see you at the Supreme Court," said group president Iris Harvey at a rally outside the Statehouse.

Ohio currently prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and lawmakers last year passed a bill banning the "dilation and evacuation" method of abortions, which is the most common procedure used after 12 weeks of pregnancy. After a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood, a federal court in March temporarily blocked that law from going into effect.

Five other states have passed abortion restrictions similar to the "Heartbeat Bill." Two bans, in Iowa and North Carolina, were recently blocked by courts. Copyright 2019 WOSU 89.7 NPR News. To see more, visit WOSU 89.7 NPR News.