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Empowered by Trump, Ohio legislature passes ‘heartbeat’ bill that would ban most abortions

Here's what you need to know about Ohio's "heartbeat" bill. (Video: Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

Ohio lawmakers passed a bill late Tuesday that would prohibit abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected — at around six weeks, before many women realize they are pregnant.

If Gov. John Kasich (R) signs the bill, it would pose a direct challenge to Supreme Court decisions that have found that women have a constitutional right to abortion until the point of viability, which is typically pegged around 24 weeks. Similar bills have been blocked by the courts. Because of this, even many antiabortion advocates have opposed such measures.

But some Ohio Republicans said they were empowered to support the bill because of President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 high court decision that legalized abortion nationally.

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“New president, new Supreme Court justice appointees, change the dynamic,” state Senate President Keith Faber (R) told WHIO-TV after the vote. Asked if he believed it could withstand a constitutional challenge, he replied he felt “it has a better chance than it did before.”

There is one vacancy on the Supreme Court, left by Antonin Scalia, a conservative justice who died this year. Another conservative justice in his place would not likely change the dynamics of the court enough to alter the chances for such a bill. But that could change if Trump gets the opportunity during his term to appoint a replacement for one of the more liberal justices.

The vote is the latest sign that Trump’s election has energized conservatives on cultural matters, even as his campaign was built around an economic message. Social conservatives were heartened by his choice for vice president, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), who shepherded some of the nation’s strictest laws in his state. They have watched approvingly as his cabinet picks have almost uniformly been outspoken against abortion rights.

Previous attempts to ban abortion at such an early point in pregnancy have been unsuccessful. The Supreme Court earlier this year declined to revisit lower court decisions blocking a six-week abortion ban passed in North Dakota and a 12-week abortion ban in Arkansas. Other states have considered such measures but shelved them because of concerns from antiabortion advocates that they would be found unconstitutional, further cementing the right to terminate a pregnancy.

Kasich, who has described himself as “pro-life,” has previously said he is concerned about potential litigation stemming from such a measure. He has not commented on this legislation since it passed. Once the bill reaches his desk he has 10 days, not counting holidays and Sundays, to veto the bill.

Abortion rights groups immediately condemned the measure, including how it was passed: as a last-minute amendment to an unrelated bill. They said it contains no exceptions for rape or incest. And they noted that the Ohio legislature is set to vote on another abortion restriction, one that would ban the procedure at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“Make no mistake — these bills punish women,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “We call on Governor John Kasich to veto these unconstitutional abortion bans.”

Here's a look at where different countries stack up in terms of abortion access. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: AGENCJA GAZETA/The Washington Post)