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Published: Tuesday, 8/20/2013

FEATURED EDITORIAL

Heart failure

A radical anti-abortion bill is back, subjecting Ohio women’s rights to politics and extremist ideology

The “heartbeat” anti-abortion bill is back before Ohio’s General Assembly, as radical, overreaching, and unconstitutional as ever. It should not become law.

State lawmakers can’t be bothered to interrupt their summer vacations to return to Columbus and vote to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program. That would save state taxpayers money while making health insurance available to 275,000 more working-poor Ohioans.

But some grandstanding GOP lawmakers can’t wait to restrict the reproductive rights of Ohio women even further. The measure they propose stands little chance of ever taking effect. In the meantime, though, it may offer incumbent lawmakers some protection from primary election contests next year with even more-extreme challengers.

The bill would prohibit abortion of a fetus with a detectable heartbeat. That can happen as early as six weeks after conception — sometimes before a woman even knows she is pregnant.

Supporters say the bill would impose the toughest restrictions on abortion of any state. They insist they are untroubled by the fact that the measure would defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 ruling in Roe vs. Wade, which defines a constitutional right to abortion until a fetus can survive outside the womb.

Such fetal viability generally does not occur until about the 24th week of pregnancy. In recent weeks, federal judges in North Dakota and Arkansas have thrown out or held up similar anti-abortion laws enacted in those states.

Advocates of Ohio’s heartbeat bill acknowledge they are looking for a court challenge of the measure, should it pass. They say they want a vehicle that would enable the current Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

But legal scholars say that’s unlikely. Although the high court has upheld some restrictions on abortion since the 1973 ruling, they note that justices have maintained the fetal-viability precedent.

So a legal challenge on those grounds, such as the heartbeat bill would provide, could end up affirming and even strengthening Roe vs. Wade rather than reversing it. That’s the fear of a number of the state’s most prominent anti-abortion groups, such as Right to Life of Ohio and the Catholic Conference of Ohio.

That’s why they are keeping their distance from the heartbeat bill. Gov. John Kasich, who cited his “pro-life” stance when he signed a state budget that includes numerous new restrictions on abortion rights, isn’t taking a position on the heartbeat bill.

That new budget could force clinics that perform abortions to close across Ohio; Toledo may soon lose its sole remaining clinic. The budget tells doctors how they must treat their pregnant patients, or face prosecution.

It punishes Planned Parenthood for its advocacy of reproductive rights by seeking to deny the group federal funding for family planning services. Columbus’ war on women needs to end, not to expand.

If anti-abortion lawmakers want to campaign for re-election and pander to anti-abortion extremists, let them do so without threatening a waste of taxpayer money in a futile court battle to defend an unconstitutional law.

The state House passed the heartbeat bill in the past legislative session, but then-Senate President Tom Niehaus did not hold a vote on it in his chamber. Mr. Niehaus is gone, but similar good sense needs to prevail again.



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