If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Republican lawmakers want to ban abortion in Ohio
If the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, Ohio Republicans want to make sure abortions aren't performed here.
House Bill 598, introduced by Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, would penalize doctors who perform abortions if the landmark decision were overturned – an increasingly likely scenario. It's called a trigger law because the ban is triggered by a court decision or a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing Mississippi's ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The court's decision, expected in June, has huge implications for access to abortion across America.
Republicans in Ohio want to be prepared. Schmidt's bill would ban doctors from performing medication or surgical abortions, creating a fourth-degree felony for violators. There is no exception for rape or incest.
“The time has come for Ohio to truly stand up for the rights of the unborn," Schmidt said during a Wednesday committee meeting. “I pray to God every single night and every single morning that we end this carnage of killing innocent lives because I am pro-life.”
Doctors could defend themselves against a criminal charge if the abortion was performed to save the mother's life and physicians followed certain steps, including specific documentation.
But Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin, says those added steps for doctors to avoid prosecution would be too cumbersome to help those facing ectopic pregnancies, for example.
“Doctors are really uncomfortable with the idea of going to jail for doing what they think is best but they’d have to prove in a court of law,” Liston said.
Schmidt said some of those steps could be skipped in the case of an emergency and she's open to clarifying language to ensure doctors aren't prosecuted for saving someone's life.
Another question raised was what would happen if the U.S. Supreme Court stops short of entirely overturning Roe v. Wade.
"If all the Supreme Court does is say a 15-week abortion ban is permissible for a state to impose, you would not use that decision to trigger the effective date for a bill which would ban all abortions save for those necessary to save the life of the mother," said Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township.
Seitz and Rep. Rich Brown, D-Canal Winchester, both asked for clarification on that topic. “Lawyers are going to love the opportunity to litigate this issue of 'what does it mean?'” Brown said.
Republican Sens. Kristina Roegner, of Hudson, and Sandra O'Brien, of Ashtabula, introduced a similar proposal, Senate Bill 123, in September. That has received a couple of hearings in committee but no vote to date.
Both bills are expected to move in the coming weeks in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in more than a month. Schmidt said 13 other states have passed similar laws and seven states had abortion bans before Roe v. Wade.
Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican running for reelection, has signed multiple bills restricting access to abortion. Still, in January, he told the USA TODAY Network Ohio bureau: "I think it's wise for us, prudent for us, to wait until we have instructions from the United States Supreme Court."
Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Akron Beacon Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.