Abortion was a big issue in Ohio in 2019, as it has been for several years. A strict abortion ban was one of the 21 bills that passed, and more bills are still under consideration.
The remnants from Gov. Mike DeWine’s inaugural party were barely removed from the Statehouse before the controversial bill to ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy was given a rebirth in this new legislature. The so-called Heartbeat Bill had first been proposed in 2011, but got new life when DeWine said during his campaign for governor that he'd sign it. Republican Senate President Larry Obhof said it would move quickly.
“We are going to pass that bill by the middle of March. I have no doubt at all," Obhof said.
Minority Democrats like Sen Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) called the bill unconscionable and said it puts the state in the position of telling doctors how to practice medicine.
“They will be challenged from making the best medical decisions for their patients. This bill will put the lives of countless Ohio women at risk," Antonio said.
But the bill, which was passed by the legislature in 2018 and vetoed twice by former Gov. John Kasich, was a priority this time around for Ohio Right to Life which, up to this point, had not supported it. That support could have had something to do with the fact DeWine promised to sign it during his campaign and, in the end, he did just that.
"This was a bill that was certainly a bill that I wanted to sign. I'm proud I signed it," DeWine said.
At least six states have passed this ban. And, as promised, the ACLU of Ohio sued in federal court. In July, that court put the bill on hold. It remains unenforceable unless the U.S. Supreme Court rules otherwise and at this point, it is not on that court’s agenda.
The Ohio Senate passed a bill on the unproven practice of what's been called abortion reversal. Republican Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) says women can reverse a two-step medication abortion by taking progesterone instead of the second abortion inducing pill. She says her bill requires doctors to tell women about it.
“This legislation simply gives women information on an alternative choice if they change their mind and want to continue their pregnancy," Lehner says.
Opponents call the procedure "junk science." The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it has not been scientifically tested and thinks it could have dangerous side effects.
Earlier this year, Republican Rep. John Becker (R-Union Township/Clermont County) sponsored a bill banning private insurance companies from covering abortions. In that bill is the suggestion that ectopic or tubal pregnancies where the fertilized egg attaches outside of the womb can be reimplanted.
“Part of that treatment would be removing that embryo from the fallopian tube and reinserting it in the uterus so that is defined as not an abortion under this bill," Becker said.
Jaime Miracle, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, quickly questioned the existence of such a procedure.
“That doesn’t exist in the realm of treatment for ectopic pregnancy. You can’t just re-implant. It’s not a medical thing," Miracle said.
That provision was rolled into another, even more restrictive abortion bill that made international headlines. It has the backing of a full third of the Republican lawmakers in the Ohio House. The President of the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio, Margie Christie, says it would completely ban abortion.
“We’re tired of it being regulated. We want it ended," Christie said.
This bill creates a new capital offense for which doctors who provide and women who get abortions could be executed for that crime. DeWine won't say if he’d sign the total abortion ban if it passes. But he has said - and continues to say - that he wants to wait till abortion laws now in the courts work their way through.
“We need to wait and see what happens in the in the United States Supreme Court before we do anything else," DeWine said.
But many Ohio lawmakers are not as patient. The abortion bills now on the back burner could be a powder keg waiting to explode in the 2020 election. And the court fights continue, with a ban on abortion after a Down syndrome diagnosis that was blocked by the courts more than two years ago getting a new hearing in federal court in the next few months.