Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a bill on Wednesday that bans abortions after 20 weeks if the fetus is determined to be viable, making Ohio the latest in a series of states to ban late-term abortions.
The Ohio bill contains no exceptions for rape or incest and only a very narrow exception for health of the mother, which means that an Ohio physician must be able to prove in court that he performed a late-term abortion to save the woman's life. If a doctor violates this rule, he could be arrested and lose his medical license.
"This is a big deal, in that it could have a real chilling effect on later abortions because there's a potential to be thrust into the court system for providing an abortion after viability," said Elizabeth Nash, a public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization. "It would be a huge burden for a provider to go through all of that and have to hire a lawyer to prove that you provided an abortion under the law."
The Ohio law is similar to the 20-week abortion bans that passed in Nebraska in 2010 and in Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma in 2011. These bills prohibit all abortions after 20 weeks, while the Ohio bill bans abortions only after the fetus is viable -- but doctors are required to start testing for viability at 20 weeks.
None of the 20-week bans have been challenged in federal court so far, despite the fact that they directly violate Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that prohibits states from banning abortions before the fetus is viable. The Roe decision states that fetal viability "is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks," and it provides exceptions for both the life and health -- including the mental health -- of the mother.
The Ohio bill contains no exception for the mental health of a mother after the fetus is viable and severely narrows the health exception, but Ohio anti-abortion leaders are touting its health protections.
"By signing this critical pro-life legislation, Governor Kasich demonstrated to all Ohioans that the health and welfare of mothers and their unborn children are of paramount importance to the state of Ohio," said Mike Gonidakis, executive director of Ohio Right to Life, in a statement.
In addition to the late-term abortion ban, which violates the health exceptions outlined in Roe, Ohio is also considering a more extreme bill that would ban all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. This could potentially launch the state into a lengthy court battle over the constitutionality of its abortion restrictions.
"[Ohio lawmakers] are definitely ignoring what the Supreme Court has said," Nash told HuffPost. "When the right situation comes around, there will be a challenge."
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