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Groups Hope to Deal Final Blow to Ohio's Heartbeat Bill

Will heartbeat bills force the U.S. Supreme Court to re-examine Roe v. Wade? (zimmytws/Adobe Stock)
Will heartbeat bills force the U.S. Supreme Court to re-examine Roe v. Wade? (zimmytws/Adobe Stock)
August 21, 2019

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Reproductive- and civil-rights organizations are hoping to strike a final blow against Ohio's so-called "Heartbeat Bill."

Senate Bill 23 bans abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically is around six weeks of pregnancy. The law was temporarily blocked from going into effect on July 3, pending the outcome of a legal challenge.

On Tuesday, a motion was filed asking for a permanent injunction to prevent the ban from taking effect in the future. Jennifer Branch is an attorney with Gerhardstein and Branch, counsel for the plaintiffs.

"The law has been clear in this country that a ban this early in pregnancy prior to viability has never been allowed,” says Branch. “So the judge should follow the law that already exists and declare this statute unconstitutional."

Fifty-two percent of Ohio voters said they oppose the heartbeat bill in a recent Quinnipiac University poll, and 61% said they agreed with the Roe vs. Wade decision that affirmed access to safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right.

Supporters contend the presence of a heartbeat is an indicator of a fetus' viability. Freda Levenson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio contends the heartbeat bill is essentially a total ban on abortion, as many women don't know they are pregnant at six weeks.

"They would ban more than 90% of abortions in Ohio,” says Levenson. “According to the Supreme Court, according to the law of our land, women are entitled to reproductive freedom up until the point of fetal viability, which is a point that takes place much, much later in a pregnancy."

There have been attempts to pass a heartbeat bill in Ohio for several years, and similar bans in other states have been blocked in court. Pro-life groups have said such bills are part of a long-term strategy to get a legal challenge in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which Branch says could very well happen.

"I think one of the states that have the same six-week ban would eventually get to the United States Supreme Court,” says Branch. “It may be Ohio's ban, it may be one of the other states,' but I think they're all destined to get there someday."

If the heartbeat bill is upheld as constitutional by a federal appeals court, the U.S. Supreme Court could be forced to re-examine Roe vs. Wade.

This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH