Ohio on Thursday became the latest state to ban abortion at the first signs of a fetal heartbeat, the latest front in the decades-long campaign by conservatives to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The new measure, signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, would ban abortions as early as six weeks, before many women realize they are pregnant. The law is set to take effect in July, but that may be held up by legal challenges. The American Civil Liberties Union has already said it plans to sue.
At the bill signing, Mr. DeWine said the measure would “protect those who cannot protect themselves,” but he also acknowledged its potential to be used as a tool in the fight against Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb, usually about 24 weeks into a pregnancy.
“Taking this action really is the time-honored tradition, the constitutional tradition, of making a good-faith argument for modification, reversal of existing legal precedent,” Mr. DeWine said, according to Cleveland.com. “So this is exactly what this is, and the United States Supreme Court will ultimately make a decision.”
Ohio is the third state to enact a fetal heartbeat bill this year, joining Kentucky and Mississippi, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Georgia is expected to soon become the fourth. Iowa and North Dakota have passed similar measures in recent years as well.
The laws are unlikely to go into effect anytime soon, and similarly restrictive bans are routinely struck down in court, but anti-abortion activists continue to bring such measures forward in order to lay the groundwork for a Supreme Court challenge.
In Ohio, conservatives had previously brought forward a fetal heartbeat bill, but they were newly energized by the appointments of Brett M. Kavanaugh and Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Protesters shouted “shame!” at members of the Ohio House of Representatives in Columbus on Wednesday.CreditBrooke Lavalley/The Columbus Dispatch, via Associated Press
“The makeup of the Supreme Court is probably the most conservative we’ve seen in a generation, and that certainly emboldens those of us who deeply desire that Roe v. Wade be overturned,” said Jamieson Gordon, the spokeswoman for Ohio Right to Life, which opposes abortion.
Since John Kasich became governor of Ohio in 2011, the state has enacted more than 20 abortion restrictions and the number of full-service abortion clinics there has fallen to seven from 16, according to Kellie Copeland, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, an abortion rights group that plans to fight the new law.
While the measure is the first major abortion restriction signed by Mr. DeWine, who took office in January, his support for the bill was hardly a surprise to abortion rights supporters given his role as attorney general under Mr. Kasich, a fellow Republican.
“The reaction from our supporters has been exactly what we knew it would be, which is defiance,” Ms. Copeland said. “We are not accepting the barriers that these politicians are trying to put on our bodily autonomy.”
Nationally, more than 300 abortion restrictions were introduced in the first three months of this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which described the flurry of legislative activity as a “surge.” At the same time, though, some state lawmakers have sought to expand abortion rights.
In January, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, signed into law a bill that permits abortion after the 24th week of pregnancy as long as the fetus is not viable or the abortion is necessary to protect the mother’s life or health.
“The events of the last several months absolutely validate the decisive actions taken by New York to legally protect abortion — and more states must follow suit so that people can continue to access the care they need when they need it,” Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, said in a statement.
Among the restrictions introduced this year was a bill in Texas that appeared to have stalled this week and would have criminalized abortions outright, potentially allowing women and physicians to receive the death penalty.