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Ohio Legislature Moves To Ban Abortion As Early As 6 Weeks After Conception

A large balloon in support of the Heartbeat Bill flies outside the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, in June 2012. More than four years later, the measure, which would ban abortions as soon as six weeks after conception, has passed the Legislature — after being folded into a widely supported child abuse bill.

Ohio's Legislature has passed a bill that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is typically around six weeks after conception — before many women even realize they're pregnant.

The bill is now sitting on the governor's desk. John Kasich has 10 days to veto the measure; otherwise, it becomes law, reports NPR's Jennifer Ludden.

Jennifer notes that the bill does not include exceptions for rape or incest — the only exception would be if the life of the woman were in danger.

"Courts in two states have struck down other such 'heartbeat' laws," Jennifer notes. "Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals. Before now, even Ohio Right to Life had warned a six-week ban would surely be found unconstitutional.

"But supporters in the Statehouse said that may change once a President Trump appoints new justices to the Supreme Court," she reports. "Trump has said he'll appoint people who oppose abortion."

Jo Ingles of Ohio Public Radio reports that the bill was passed late Tuesday night, and that supporters had been trying for years to push it through the Legislature.

Ohio's Senate president had previously maintained that the bill was unconstitutional but said the president-elect "changed the dynamic."

"But the Heartbeat Bill didn't move forward on its own," Ingles reports. It was expected the legislation could be folded into a measure that would ban abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy. But in a somewhat surprising move, it was attached to a child abuse bill that had widespread support among Republicans and Democrats."

After that bill passed the Ohio Senate, it went to the state House for debate. Ingles reports:

"The debate was emotional as some lawmakers talked about their personal experiences with miscarriages and abortions. Democrat Greta Johnson took issue with the fact that the Heartbeat Bill doesn't provide exceptions for rape and incest. And she urged lawmakers to put themselves in the shoes of a 12-year-old incest victim: 'What would you say to her if you had to look at her and tell her no, that at 12 years old, she would be forced to carry a baby because she was impregnated by her brother?'

"Republican Rep. Jim Buchy said he thought passage of the Heartbeat Bill would encourage personal responsibility.

" 'What we have here is really the need to give people the incentive to be more responsible so we reduce unwanted pregnancies and by the way, the vast majority of abortions are performed on women who were not raped,' [he said]."

In a statement, Planned Parenthood said the bill is "intended to make abortion illegal in the state of Ohio."

"This bill could take away a woman's right to make her own medical decisions before she would have known she had a decision to make," the organization writes.

"Not only is this shameful, but it's dangerous for women," said Iris Harvey, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio.

The Heartbeat Bill was written by Janet Folger Porter, who used to host a conservative Christian talk radio show but was reportedly let go over her radical views. She founded a group called Faith2Action and still releases daily snippets of conservative radio commentary.

On her site, Porter celebrated the bill's passage and encouraged her supporters to call Kasich to advocate for his signature.

She said the measure "will protect every child whose heartbeat can be detected."

Six weeks after conception is well before the earliest routine prenatal tests are performed to detect possible birth defects. Some defects, such as those caused by the Zika virus, can easily pass undetected until after the 20th week of pregnancy, as NPR has reported.

The Heartbeat Bill isn't the only restrictive abortion law being considered by Ohio's Legislature. As Ingles noted above, a measure that would ban abortions at 20 weeks was also on the table. That bill, which is supported by Ohio Right to Life, has been passed by the state Senate, and is expected to come before the House on Wednesday.

A variety of abortion restrictions — including a requirement for an in-person meeting with a doctor followed by a 24-hour waiting period, limitations on the use of drugs to induce abortions, and restrictions on clinics that provide abortion — have already complicated abortion access in Ohio, as Jennifer reported last year.

Nearly half the clinics that provide abortion in Ohio have shut down since those laws went into effect, Jennifer notes.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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