Destroying Roe v. Wade: Ohio's "unconscionable" Heartbeat Bill is "designed to punish women"

The GOP's bill, which goes to the desk of Gov. Kasich, was the obsession of right-to-life activists in the state

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published December 7, 2016 7:19PM (EST)

  (AP/Tony Dejak)
(AP/Tony Dejak)

President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly promised on the campaign trail that he would help criminalize abortion. In his postelection interview with Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes," Trump doubled down, promising to appoint Supreme Court judges who will vote against abortion rights.

Well, Ohio Republicans clearly believe him and are downright excited about it — so much so that state legislators in both houses used the last few days of the lame duck session to pass a bill banning abortion after the embryo begins pumping blood, at about six weeks of pregnancy. It's called the "Heartbeat Bill," but that's a bit of misnomer, since the circulatory system of an embryo that early in a pregnancy hasn't really developed what most of us recognize as a proper heart.

Now the abortion ban is headed to the desk of John Kasich, Ohio's governor and former Republican presidential candidate. Kasich is a hard-line opponent of abortion rights and takes a dim view of women's health care generally. Since 2011, he has waged all-out war on abortion access, using backdoor regulatory schemes to shut down half of the state's abortion clinics.

Proponents claim that the bill isn't an outright abortion ban, but for most women, it might as well be. Even six weeks into a pregnancy, many women may be unaware of the changes inside their bodies.  And although a woman may know she's pregnant, squeezing an abortion into the brief window between the time the embryo actually implants — during the fourth week — and the time blood starts pumping would be challenging at best. It would be almost impossible in a state like Ohio, which has far fewer abortion clinics than it needs.

"It’s unconscionable that politicians in Ohio are trying to sneakily pass clearly unconstitutional abortion bans in the final days of their session," said Nancy Northup, the CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

"Make no mistake — these bills punish women," Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. "We’ve already seen how restrictions force women to travel hundreds of miles and cross state lines, which many women with low incomes cannot afford to do."

The state senator who introduced the bill, Republican Kris Jordan, has an unsavory history with women. In July 2011, police were summoned to his home in Powell, Ohio, after his wife, Melissa Jordan, called 911 to complain that he had pushed her and was throwing things.

“This is not new,” she told the deputies. “He’s done this numerous times, and I just got sick of it and I just had to call.”

“She got a little upset,” Kris Jordan told the deputy, dismissing his wife's complaint. “Girls do that.”

The prosecutor declined to press charges, after Melissa Jordan asked him not to. “We can’t force Mr. Jordan to testify," Joe Schmansky, the assistant city prosecutor, told the Columbus Dispatch. "And Mrs. Jordan, we need her to testify to go forward with whatever charges.”

Defending his bill to ban abortions after six weeks, state Sen. Jordan said, "This is just flat out the right thing to do. It affords the most important liberty of all – the opportunity to live."

Getting this bill passed has been a singular obsession of Janet Porter, an activist of the religious right and president of Faith2Action, who has even gone so far as to picket the homes of state legislators in her pressure campaign.

Porter is what you might gently call a "character" or, less charitably, a conspiracy theorist and Christian extremist. Porter believes that same-sex marriage caused Noah's flood, that President Barack Obama deliberately tried to cause food shortages to starve conservatives and that LGBT activists are trying to criminalize Christianity.

Porter is also — because you can't make this stuff up — releasing an anti-abortion romantic comedy about her personal journey to find love while ending legal abortion. It stars Porter as herself and Stephen Baldwin as her love interest and future husband.

But despite Porter's ability to secure funding for what sounds like the worst movie ever made, she has struggled to get this heartbeat bill passedin the Ohio legislature. The problem is that it's blatantly unconstitutional under the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, so much so that a conservative panel of judges on the Eighth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down a similar law in North Dakota.

Because of this, Kasich and Ohio legislators have been dodging Porter for years. Kasich has repeatedly denounced this bill as patently unconstitutional. To be sure, the governor isn't saying that because he cares about women's access to health care. On the contrary, Kasich's hostility toward reproductive rights extends well past his backdoor efforts to regulate legal abortion out of existence. Using Planned Parenthood's support for abortion rights as a pretext, he has targeted pretty much every program that helps women live safer, healthier lives.

It's not just that Kasich slashed funds for contraception and sexually transmitted infection prevention. Any old anti-woman politician can do that. Kasich has gone much further, cutting funding for programs to prevent infant mortality and help women escape from domestic violence. If a program helps women and Planned Parenthood has touched it, Kasich will happily gut it.

All of which is to say there's real reason to be concerned. Kasich and Ohio legislators have avoided this bill not because they worry about the impact on women. If anything, causing women pain and suffering appears to be a central legislative agenda of Ohio Republicans. They just don't want to spend money defending an anti-woman bill that the courts will promptly throw out.

But Donald Trump will get an immediate chance to appoint at least one Supreme Court justice and may get a second during his first term. Anti-choice politicians are clearly hoping for a high court majority with little respect for the law, the Constitution or the concept of stare decisis, and who will happily overturn Roe v. Wade, allowing states to ban abortion outright.

"A new president [and] new Supreme Court appointees change the dynamic, and there was consensus in our caucus to move forward," Republican state Sen. Keith Faber told the Columbus Dispatch.

If Kasich agrees with that assessment, he may very well sign this bill and start the process of dismantling not just abortion rights, but the long-standing judicial tradition of respecting precedent.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

MORE FROM Amanda Marcotte