When will Republican lawmakers ban abortion in Ohio? Later this year and Democrats can't stop it.

Jessie Balmert
Cincinnati Enquirer
June 24, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, United States;  Hundreds of people rallied at the Ohio Statehouse and marched through downtown Columbus in support of abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade on Friday. Mandatory Credit: Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch

A ban on nearly all abortions in Ohio is coming.

Ohio currently prohibits abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected, which is about six weeks of gestation. That 2019 law took effect Friday evening, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade.

But Ohio's GOP-controlled Legislature is expected to ban abortions even earlier, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

Lawmakers are still crafting language on when abortions would be banned, but past proposals barred the procedure after fertilization, which could prohibit some birth control.

Republicans, who hold veto-proof majorities in the Ohio House and Senate, have the votes to pass such a ban without any Democratic support. In fact, several Republicans could vote against the bill – and likely will, based on past behavior – without affecting the final outcome. 

"We are going to accomplish our goal and our mission to end abortion in 2022," Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said. 

The question is not if, but when.

When will Ohio Republicans pass an abortion ban?

Here's the most likely scenario: Lawmakers return to pass a bill banning most abortions following the Nov. 8 election. That proposal – which has not yet been introduced – would include an exception to save the pregnant person's life, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said Friday.   

Proposed "trigger ban" legislation debated earlier this year included what's called an affirmative defense for doctors charged with performing the procedure. A physician could avoid a conviction if proven an abortion was performed to save a person's life.

But Democrats argued that language would have a chilling effect on physicians, causing them to second-guess treatment for fear of possible prosecution.  

That aspect of the bill – how to craft an exception for the pregnant person's life – is an issue lawmakers and lobbyists are hammering out. 

The bill will also include language on how to prosecute doctors who perform abortions if the local prosecutor refuses to do so, Gonidakis said. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley, a Democrat, has already said he wouldn't take those cases.

In that scenario, the Ohio Attorney General or another county prosecutor could step in.  

Will GOP lawmakers push to return from break early? It's possible, though less likely, that an abortion ban would pass after the Ohio Legislature's Aug. 2 primary but before the Nov. 8 election. Huffman is interested in a more thorough, less rushed process, his spokesman said. 

"We would welcome them back immediately," said Gonidakis, but he expects the bill will pass closer to November or December. 

Without Democratic support, the bill couldn't take effect immediately. Instead, Ohioans would lose access to nearly all abortions by early 2023 – 90 days after DeWine signs it into law. 

Lawmakers will make sure a bill is on DeWine's desk by the end of 2022, and anti-abortion advocates like Gonidakis have every confidence that "the most pro-life governor in Ohio history" will sign it. Even if former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley were to defeat DeWine in November, she wouldn't take office in time to veto such a ban.

Can Democrats stop it?

Legislative Democrats will pull out all the stops – offering amendments and counter-proposals to protect abortion access – but they don't have the numbers to block a ban if the GOP is committed to that course.

“We’re going to do everything that we can," House Democratic spokeswoman Maya Majikas said. "I would hope that Republicans actually listen to what Ohioans are saying, and they clearly don’t want this."

When lawmakers passed the six-week ban in 2019, most knew a federal judge would block it from taking effect. That's not the case now.

"Anti-abortion legislators in Ohio are now facing a different reality," Pro-Choice Ohio deputy director Jaime Miracle said. "Now, every single move they make as legislators will directly block access to abortions and other healthcare services."

Ohio laws can be repealed by voters using a process called the referendum, but that involves collecting signatures and placing the issue on the ballot. Challenging a law at the ballot is an uphill battle and the last successful effort was blocking an anti-union Senate Bill 5 in 2011.

That leaves advocates of abortion access in a familiar place: Turning to the courts. On Wednesday, Ohio's abortion clinics filed a lawsuit at the Ohio Supreme Court to restore access to abortions, arguing that abortion restrictions violate the Ohio Constitution.

But that legal battle could take months to sort out. 

Reporter Anna Staver contributed to this article. 

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.

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