Plenty of hurdles left for Heartbeat Bill on abortion


A controversial bill banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy is heading to Ohio Governor John Kasich's desk but even some of its supporters aren't sure it will survive a legal challenge.

The so-called Heartbeat Bill was passed in the 11th hour of the lame duck session Tuesday. If passed, the bill could be one of the strictest abortion restrictions in the nation.

Lawmakers have considered the bill for years, but this is the first time it has passed in both the House and Senate.

Some lawyers point to decades worth of legal challenges to the landmark case Roe v. Wade as precedent for striking down the Heartbeat Bill if it becomes law.

"There's not much constitutional doubt on this question," said Dan Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State. "This kind of bill is unconstitutional."

Even if President-Elect Donald Trump is able to appoint a pro-life justice to the United States Supreme Court, some pro-life activists said that still might not be enough to uphold the bill.

"We still need another vote though," said Mike Gonidakis with Ohio Right to Life. "One appointment to the United States Supreme Court does not tilt the balance of power to the pro-life side in the national. We'll need two appointments."

Lawmakers often wait until the end of the year lame-duck session to pass controversial bills.

"It's a time when controversial topics are easier to address," said Martha Crone, a political science professor at Columbus State. "You're about as far away from re-election pressures as you're going to get."

Crone said the Heartbeat Bill puts Kasich in a difficult spot.

"He hasn't had to do this," she said. "This bill has not passed. It's been up numerous times and it hasn't passed before. It hasn't gotten to his desk so this time he'll have to make a tough decision."

The bill was squeezed into a bill originally about child abuse. Ohio's constitution says laws must be about one subject but that can be open to interpretation.

"It can sometimes be a complex inquiry in Ohio and other states to define the subject," Tokaji said.

For some lawmakers the ends can justify the means.

"That's often a political tactic for controversial topics to bury them inside of a bill that otherwise seems more popular or more innocuous," Crone said. "It does give politicians some cover to say, 'Oh I voted for the child abuse bill'."

The bill will soon head to the Governor's desk. So far his administration said it has not officially arrived.

Kasich can sign it, veto the entire bill, use a "line item veto" to get rid of just the Heartbeat Bill portion of the child abuse bill or use a pocket veto. If he uses the pocket veto and does not do anything, it automatically becomes law in 10 days.

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