Published on April 23rd, 2019 | by Terra Goodnight


Ohio Enacts Nation’s Strictest And Most Sweeping Abortion Ban

Ohio Lawmakers voted this month to effectively ban abortion in Ohio with the passage of Senate Bill 23 (SB23). The bill passed on a 56-39 vote along party lines, with 4 Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition. The Senate quickly followed suit, voting 18-13 to send the bill to Governor DeWine, who quickly signed it into law.

What Does Senate Bill 23 Do?

The bill, which is often referred to as the “heartbeat” abortion ban, prohibits abortion after a detectable fetal heartbeat — usually around the sixth week of pregnancy, or about two weeks after the person misses their first period. Under the bill, by the time most people learn they are pregnant, it would be too late to access a legal abortion. Even patients who suspect they are pregnant earlier could be thwarted by the state’s lack of clinics and a mandatory 24-hour waiting period. Doctors could be charged with a fifth-degree felony punishable by up to a year in prison for violations.

Ohio becomes one of seven states to have enacted a so-called “heartbeat” ban: three so far in 2019 with Georgia about to follow suit. Ohio is also the largest state to pass such a ban. More than a dozen state legislatures have similar bans pending.

A Bill So Extreme All Reasonable Amendments Failed

Ohio lawmakers abandoned all pretense of concern for women and patients in passing SB23. Attempts to amend the bill to lessen its impact on women and patients or grant exceptions for women with health risks or who were survivors of rape and incest all failed.

Among the amendments rejected by the Chamber’s majority Republicans would have:

  • Added exceptions for survivors of rape and incest
  • Provided paid maternity leave benefits
  • Covered child care and transportation expenses for expecting moms

In committee, members in the GOP rejected amendments to create an exception for women and patients whose health or mental health was at risk, to offer evidence-based comprehensive sex education in schools, and to offer childcare and public transportation vouchers to pregnant people.


Prior to the bill’s House passage, the House Health committee rejected amendments that would have:

  • Created an exception where a pregnancy put a women’s physical or mental health at risk (Liston)
  • Granted a religious exemption (Boyd)
  • Assigned financial responsibility to men determined to be responsible for a pregnancy (Upchurch)
  • Created child care and public transportation vouchers for pregnant women (Upchurch)
  • Created an incentive for medical and nursing students to practice in Ohio by waiving student fees and tuition costs (Liston)
  • Implemented an evidence-based comprehensive sexual education curriculum in Ohio schools (Lepore-Hagan)
  • Established a fund to support programs that improve maternal health outcomes and deposit an amount equivalent to the legal costs of defending SB23 in court (Russo)
  • Restored funding eligibility to Planned Parenthood (Lepore-Hagan)
  • Exempted African-Americans from the legislation (Boyd)
  • Exempted pregnancies involving fetal abnormalities (Clites)

In floor speeches, several Republican members referenced their religious beliefs, even quoting scripture, prior to voting for the bill but one of the bill’s main backers insisted in her speech that it “is not a religious issue.” Opponents of the ban told personal stories of pregnancy from rape and of family members losing their lives to illegal abortions.

Republicans Put Themselves In Political Jeopardy

Voting for the ban and against adding an exception for victims of rape and incest were six potentially vulnerable incumbents, up for reelection in 2020: Laura Lanese of Grove City, Dave Greenspan of Westlake, J. Todd Smith of Germantown, Haraz Ghanbari of Perrysburg, Tom Brinkman of Mt. Lookout and Don Manning of New Middletown. Manning, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, also voted against committee amendments to create a health exception, offer sex education in schools and to offer child care and public transportation vouchers to pregnant women. In the Senate, vulnerable incumbent Theresa Gavarone of Bowling Green, up for reelection in her Northwest Ohio Senate seat in 2020, also voted for the bill.

Ohio lawmakers have tried several times before to pass the ban, twice sending bills to Governor John Kasich, who vetoed them for not having an exception for rape and incest while signing other restrictions on abortion which have led to the closure of over half of the state’s standalone clinics.

The clearly unconstitutional law was passed now because supporters are eager to re-litigate Roe v Wade, hoping for a better result with the Court’s balance newly shifted thanks to the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The ACLU of Ohio promises it will file a lawsuit.

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About the Author

Terra Goodnight does Policy Research and Digital Organizing for Innovation Ohio, a progressive-leaning research and advocacy nonprofit in Columbus. She also runs a few Twitter accounts and had earlier careers in state and local government and private sector technology consulting.

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