An Ohio bill that would ban abortion as soon as the fetus’ heartbeat can be detected passed the legislature on Tuesday night and is waiting on the governor’s desk. Fetal heartbeats are detectible around six weeks, which is well before many women even realize they’re pregnant. That means the bill would effectively ban abortion in the state of Ohio. The law’s backers say the election of Donald Trump—and the promise that he’ll appoint Supreme Court justices friendly to their cause—have empowered them to move forward on the extreme measure.
The governor now considering the bill is one-time presidential wannabe John Kasich, who told CNN earlier this year that he is “pro-life with the exceptions of rape, incest and the life of the mother.” Kasich has not said whether he will sign the bill, but when the state House considered a similar bill last year, he indicated he was concerned about its constitutionality. That was an opinion he shared with groups including Ohio Right to Life, which said it could backfire on the anti-abortion movement if a federal judge ends up striking down other abortion restrictions along with the heartbeat law.
The president of the state Senate, Republican Keith Faber, has echoed those objections in the past. (Republicans in Ohio have tried to pass similar bills twice in the past several years.) Last year, Faber said that he worried a heartbeat bill would be “risking throwing out all of the things we’ve done to save babies.” Roe v. Wade gives states the right to restrict abortion after the fetus can survive outside of the womb, which in the early 1970s was assumed to happen between 24 and 28 weeks. Medical advances since then have pushed back the point of potential viability by several weeks. But a 6-week-old fetus is nowhere near viable: It is the size of lentil, and looks something like a very small shrimp.
Something has changed in Faber’s political calculus since he feared for the bill’s fate last year. What could it be? This week he told the Associated Press that the bill was placed back on the agenda because of the expectation that Trump will fill Supreme Court vacancies with justices who are friendlier to anti-abortion legislation. On Tuesday, the state Senate added provisions from a House-sponsored heartbeat bill to an unrelated bill about child-abuse reporting by medical professionals. The bill quickly passed and went back to the House, which approved the revision and sent it to Kasich.
Kasich may feel pressure to sign the bill now that it has won over some former opponents and landed on his desk. As of March, he had signed 17 anti-abortion measures into law in the state, including a 2011 bill banning most abortions after 20 weeks. A 2013 law requires an Ohio doctor to perform an ultrasound before a woman can get an abortion; if the ultrasound detects a heartbeat, the doctor must offer the woman the chance to listen to it or view the ultrasound image.
Abortion opponents have tried to pass similar laws in several states within the last five years. They have mostly failed, and federal courts have struck down similar laws in Arkansas and North Dakota. But the optimism of Republicans in the Ohio state legislature suggests anti-abortion advocates are feeling bullish about their future in Trump’s America.