Heartbeat Bill Represents Skewed Priorities for Ohio Governor, State Legislature

 The infamous “heartbeat bill” passed the Ohio state legislature this Wednesday, and after several years of emotional debates, numerous vetoes, and amendments to the bill, Governor Mike DeWine officially signed the bill on Thursday night. The passage of this bill effectively hinders every woman’s ability to get an abortion in the state of Ohio. 

Ohio now has the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. The bill bans abortion after six weeks into a pregnancy and makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Furthermore, doctors who do not test for a heartbeat or proceed with abortion procedures if a heartbeat is detected will be charged with a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Unfortunately, heartbeat bills — named because a fetus’ heartbeat is first detectable six weeks into a typical pregnancy — are not new in the United States. Several other states have recently passed similar bills, including Mississippi, Kentucky, and Georgia. Numerous other states have tried to pass similar bills unsuccessfully. 

This bill will inevitably harm people physically, emotionally, and potentially financially. Not only does it violate people’s right to choose what to do with their own bodies, but it also will take an enormous toll on the women who will be forced to bear children that they cannot properly care for. While these concerns are valid and understandable, the underlying implications of the passage of the heartbeat bill in Ohio are even more concerning. 

I cannot help but wonder why regulations on abortion — the literal policing of women’s bodies and choices — is the top priority of both Ohio’s governor and state legislature at a time when Ohio is facing so many other more pressing issues. 

As I have cited previously in the Review, Ohio had the third highest number of opioid-related overdoses and the third highest overdose rate increase of any other state in 2017, culminating in 5,200 opioid-related deaths (“Ohio Residents Should Have Taken Chance on Issue 1,” Nov. 9, 2018). Montgomery County in southern Ohio had so many opioid-related deaths that the county had to expand its morgue to accommodate the death toll. Of the 4,329 overdoses resulting in death in Ohio in 2017, 83 percent were due to opioid overdoses.

However, there has been little to no action by the Ohio state legislature to try to solve the opioid problem. While former Governor John Kasich made several attempts — notably shutting down several “pill mills” and monitoring opioid prescriptions — the state legislature under Mike DeWine has made only half-hearted attempts. The most recent effort has been through Ohio Issue 1, which was on the midterm ballot. 

Though it did not pass during the midterms, Issue 1 was a potential progressive amendment to the state constitution that — if passed — would have prohibited judges from sending people to jail for violating probation terms, reallocated money from inmate care to drug treatment and crime-victim programs, allowed people convicted of drug crimes to petition the court for re-sentencing, and cut prison time for individuals who complete vocational or rehabilitation programs (except those convicted of murder, rape, or child molestation). It would have brought about drastic changes to the Ohio justice system and had the potential to save thousands of lives. 

After the failure of Issue 1, Republicans in the Ohio State Senate have used the bill as a template to create Senate Bill 3. Sponsors of the bill state that it “is aimed at providing better access to treatment for Ohioans struggling with drug addiction and helping low-level offenders successfully re-enter the workforce, while ensuring violent offenders and drug traffickers are put in prison.” 

This bill was introduced in February, and members of the state legislature say that if the bill passes, it will likely only be voted upon right before the legislature takes their summer break. This means that the bill will ultimately take over four months to pass. Alternatively, the heartbeat bill took only a month and a half to pass after it the newest version was introduced. 

Why is it that state lawmakers are more eager to put restrictions on women than save the lives of their own citizens?

The priorities of these lawmakers are extremely distorted. Every year, thousands of Ohioans die from accidental overdoses, and this number has been on the rise for years. However, there have been no substantive policies enacted or adjustments made to the justice system. There is no time for month-long debates — Ohio has needed drastic, fast changes for years, and residents have yet to see this change. Instead, the only changes that Ohio is seeing are the enforcement of a heartbeat bill and the further protection of AR-15 guns, which are the only substantive bills that Governor DeWine has signed since coming into office. 

 Furthermore, the passage of the heartbeat bill will surely have economic implications for the state of Ohio. Former Governor John Kasich vetoed several heartbeat bills during his term because he believed that their passage would lead to lawsuits that would take a severe toll on Ohio’s budget and finances. Since Governor DeWine signed the bill, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio immediately announced that it would file a court challenge before it goes into effect as scheduled in 90 days. This suit will inevitably cost taxpayers thousands of dollars over the course of the hearings — further evidence that the Ohio legislature prioritizes policing women over the financial well-being of its residents. 

The situation in Ohio is only getting worse for residents as time passes. Addiction rates and overdose deaths continue to increase. Major businesses are moving out of Ohio or cutting jobs that residents need, putting thousands out of jobs. The situation is so bad that Ohio Watchdog ranked Ohio at number six in the nation for people leaving the state. 

As long as Ohio lawmakers continue to prioritize things like abortion bans over their citizens’ wellbeing, then the situation will only continue to worsen. These are serious issues that affect the physical well-being and the livelihoods of Ohioans, and they are the issues that state lawmakers must begin to prioritize. If they can pass the most restrictive abortion bill in the United States in under two months, they should be able to pass a drug reform bill just as quickly. Ohio lives depend on it.