Heartbeat bill passes and legal battle set

It took only little more than three months into his term for new Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to make good on his promise to sign into law Ohio’s so-called “heartbeat” bill.

Under the legislation — among the toughest anti-abortion laws in the nation — it will be illegal in Ohio to terminate a pregnancy by the time the fetus’s heartbeat can be detected — normally around six weeks into a pregnancy. The law will take effect in July.

The law will punish doctors and other practitioners who perform abortions after they detect a heartbeat or if they fail to perform an abdominal or transvaginal ultrasound to check for a heartbeat.

If convicted, those medical practitioners would face a fifth-degree felony, punishable by six to 12 months in jail plus a $2,500 fine.

Abortion-rights advocates and medical professionals say the quick timeline will make it virtually impossible for most women to have access to abortion in Ohio because many women don’t even know they are pregnant by the time a fetus has a heartbeat detectable to an obstetrician.

During a conversation I had with local state Rep. Glenn Holmes, D-Girard, back in December (that was when a previous attempt at this bill’s passage was blocked by veto of previous Gov. John Kasich), Holmes said he feared the heartbeat bill’s far-reaching abortion bans would be used specifically to set off court challenges ultimately to test Roe v. Wade.

“The whole thing is written to contradict Roe v. Wade,” Holmes said at that time.

He was correct.

The ACLU of Ohio already is promising to sue.

“This legislation is blatantly unconstitutional,” said the ACLU’s Legal Director Freda Levenson in media reports. “We will fight to the bitter end to ensure that this bill is permanently blocked.”

Abortion opponents hope they do sue, and that the resulting legal battle reaches all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court with the ultimate result of overturning Roe v. Wade.

Roe v. Wade, decided in 1973, determined that states may not restrict abortion before the fetus is viable, usually around 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Ohio now joins Arkansas, North Dakota, Iowa, Kentucky and Mississippi that have similar heartbeat laws on the books.

So far, courts have declared heartbeat laws unconstitutional in every state where they have been challenged. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal on North Dakota’s law.

In a surprise move earlier, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined with the high court’s liberals to block a Louisiana law that would have restricted abortion access.

That’s not to say, however, that this will stand for future legal challenges, especially considering that the high court has a more conservative makeup than it previously has due in large part to recent conservative appointments from President Donald Trump of Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

And Ohio’s 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considered by many to be more conservative than other circuit courts.

New Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, also a Republican, has said he is ready and eager to defend the new law in court.

When that happens, it won’t matter whether taxpayers agree or disagree with the bill’s language because we will be on the hook for the legal fees to defend the law now on the books in the state of Ohio.

When he vetoed the similar bill in December, Kasich left voters with this ominous message:

“The State of Ohio will be the losing party in that lawsuit and, as the losing party, the State of Ohio will be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to cover the legal fees for the pro-choice activists’ lawyers.”

For certain, the battle lines are drawn. Now it’s only a matter of time until the opening shots are fired.