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Ohio GOP plans abortion ban

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision last week to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark ruling that permitted abortions, state officials can place as many restrictions as they want — including a complete ban.

Ohio is heading toward a ban, with perhaps an exception to save the life of a pregnant woman, later this year.

Only a few hours after the court’s decision last Friday came out, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barrett honored a request from Attorney General Dave Yost, a pro-life Republican, to lift the preliminary injunction in place since 2019 to Ohio’s “heartbeat bill.”

It bans abortions when cardiac activity in an embryo can be detected. That is usually around six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant.

Before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortions in Ohio were legal up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy. After that time, they could only be done if the mother’s life was in danger.

After Barrett removed the injunction, Gov. Mike DeWine, a pro-life Republican, signed an executive order permitting the Ohio Department of Health to immediately adopt the heartbeat bill. Abortion clinics filed a lawsuit Wednesday with the Ohio Supreme Court seeking to stop that enforcement.

In April 2019, the House passed the bill 56-40 and the Senate approved it 18-13 with DeWine signing it into law.

The heartbeat law criminalizes abortions after a heartbeat is detected with the exception to save the life of the pregnant woman or for risk of “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” There is no exception for rape or incest.

Patients getting abortions in violation of the law don’t face criminal prosecution. But those who provide abortions could face fifth-degree felonies and a maximum sentence of a year in prison.

While this is the law now in Ohio, Republicans are preparing a ban on all abortions with the possible exception of saving the life of the pregnant woman.

This is expected to happen after the Nov. 8 election when the state Legislature returns for session.

With Republicans holding a strong majority in the state House and Senate, it’s just a matter of when they will approve the abortion ban and if it will include an exception for the life of the pregnant woman. There are signs that Republicans will include that lone exception in a ban. Even if that occurs, there are questions as to how that would be determined.

Before the court’s decision, DeWine told Ohio Right to Life members if the law was overturned, state lawmakers would discuss “how we want to craft that legislation to go as far as we can to protect human life,” according to the Columbus Dispatch.

DeWine has told me over the years he doesn’t favor any exceptions on abortion.

Also before the Supreme Court decision, Republican legislators had hearings on bills to ban all abortions, except to save the pregnant woman’s life, that would take effect as soon as the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The so-called trigger ban legislation was never passed.

That bill also criminalized doctors who perform abortions, but not women having the procedure.

Republicans have the votes to ban abortions in Ohio, but there are enough Democrats to stop it from taking effect immediately. Instead, abortions would be illegal in the state 90 days after DeWine signed the law.

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, four Democratic state legislators, including Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, announced plans to seek having the Legislature put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot guaranteeing the rights to abortion services and access to contraception.

But it went nowhere because of Republican objections.

There is talk of a ballot referendum codifying Roe v. Wade into the constitution. That would require valid signatures from at least 10 percent of electors in the last gubernatorial election. That number is currently close to 450,000.

Nan Whaley, the Democratic nominee for governor, said if she’s elected in November she would work for that referendum, though the earliest that could happen would be next year.

I asked Whaley if she would still push ahead with an initiative if she lost to DeWine in November. She avoided the question, saying she was going to win.

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