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Ohio Senate Passes Anti-Abortion 'Heartbeat Bill'

This photo taken June 5, 2012, outside the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, shows a large balloon in support of the "Heartbeat Bill."
Ann Sanner
Associated Press
This photo taken June 5, 2012, outside the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, shows a large balloon in support of the "Heartbeat Bill."

The Ohio Senate passed the controversial “Heartbeat Bill” on Wednesday, setting up a potential veto fight between Republican legislative leaders and outgoing Gov. John Kasich.

The bill would outlaw abortions at the point a fetal heartbeat is detected. That could ban the practice as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even know they’re pregnant. It's one of the strictest abortion regulations in the country.

The Ohio House passed the bill, HB 258, back in November.

Kasich said he would reject the bill if it landed on his desk. He vetoed a similar bill in 2016.

Kasich has 10 business days to veto the "Heartbeat Bill," and lawmakers would need to return to session during the Christmas break to override his veto. It's not clear the Ohio Senate, which passed the bill 18-13, has a large enough majority to do so.

A row of protesters standing silently in the Senate chambers, wearing shirts saying "Stop The Ban," the Ohio Senate debated the bill. "Shame! Shame!" the protesters shouted in response to the bill's passage.

Ahead of the vote, legislators tabled several amendments from state Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus), including exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother. The Senate tabled another amendment requiring hospitals to offer pregnancy prevention resources for sexual assault victims, and one from state Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-Youngstown) that would provide backup protection for frozen embryos at fertility clinics.

Schiavoni also offered an amendment eliminating the statute of limitations for rape, something he proposed amid the Richard Strauss sexual abuse scandal at Ohio State. But after a speech in opposition from state Sen. John Eklund, legislators voted to table that amendment as well.

Earlier in the day, the Senate health committee did pass a GOP-backed amendment allowing the state medical board to revoke the license of any doctor performing an abortion in violation of the law, before going through a court process first.

The committee also approved an amendment clarifying the bill would not require use of a transvagical ultrasound to detect the heartbeat. According to Statehouse Bureau reporter Jo Ingles, that means the pregnancy could generally continue for longer than six weeks before a heartbeat is detected.

Other states have seen laws similar to the “Heartbeat Bill” struck down by courts. But anti-abortion activists and Republican legislators say they believe the U.S. Supreme Court, which now boasts a solidly conservative majority, may uphold the bill's constitutionality.

The Ohio Senate is also considering a ban on the “dilation and evacuation” procedure, a common abortion method used after 12 weeks of pregnancy. If that’s approved as well, Kasich is widely expected to veto the “Heartbeat Bill” while signing the other into law – similar to what he did in 2016, when he signed into law a 20-week abortion ban.

A bill in the Ohio House that would ban all abortions is not expected to move forward this session.

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Gabe Rosenberg