UPDATE: Ohio’s ‘Heartbeat Bill’ goes into effect, causing immediate change to the state’s abortion landscape

Emma Andrus, Managing Editor

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include information regarding the emergency motion to dissolve the federal injunction of Ohio’s “Heartbeat Bill.” 

On Friday evening, a federal court moved to dissolve the injunction of Ohio Senate Bill 23, also known as the “Heartbeat Bill,” officially prohibiting abortion in cases where a heartbeat is detectable, or as early as six weeks gestational age.

The bill was initially passed in 2019. A federal judge blocked the bill, which would have effectively halted most abortions in Ohio at the time. According to reporting from the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a motion Friday morning asking the federal judge in the case to allow the law to take effect. “It’s not clear how long that will take, but the judge must follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s directions,” the story stated.

On Friday evening, Yost tweeted: “The Heartbeat Bill is now the law.”

The change comes after the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling overturned the precedent established by Roe v. Wade (1973). Two trigger bills, House Bill 598 and Senate Bill 123, remain on hold in the state legislature.

Both bills will likely be reworked based on the actual ruling, so it’s unclear when they will be presented to lawmakers. Overturning the Roe v. Wade precedent allows individual states to make decisions on abortion access.

Under current law, Ohio does not ban most abortions until the 22nd week of pregnancy; after that, they’re allowed only to save a patient’s life or when their health is seriously compromised. But the state imposes other restrictions, including parental consent for minors, a required ultrasound and in-person counseling followed by a 24-hour waiting period.

Abortions in Ohio in Ohio are prohibited for the reason of a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis. The state also limits the public funding of abortions to cases of rape, incest or endangerment of the patient’s life. It limits public employees’ abortion-related insurance coverage and coverage through health plans offered in the Affordable Care Act health exchange to those same scenarios. Clinics providing abortions must comply with regulations.

The Ohio Legislature is controlled by Republicans who support restricting or banning abortions, and Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican with an anti-abortion record, backs those efforts. He is up for reelection this year against Nan Whaley, the former mayor of Dayton, who supports abortion rights.

It is not clear what will happen next in Ohio. Activists are considering how to help Ohioans get abortions elsewhere. They may also mount a statewide ballot initiative that would embed the right to an abortion in the state constitution, though that could not happen before next year. Abortion opponents are weighing strategies for imposing a statewide abortion ban if Roe is overturned.

Ohio Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted issued a statement following the court’s decision.

“As we transition as a nation from Roe to Dobbs, we all need to do our best to understand and respect the heartfelt, genuine differences of opinions among our families, friends, neighbors and communities,” Husted said. “Being an adoptee who started life in a foster home, my own experience helped shape my views on this issue. I’m here today because my birth mother chose life and put me up for adoption, which I know could not have been an easy decision for her. My prayer for all of us is this collective experience will build a more compassionate nation that values life.”

Iris Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, also issued a statement on the ruling via her Facebook account.

“Today the Supreme Court has failed us all,” Harvey wrote. “Knowing it was coming does not make this moment any less devastating. We know what the consequences of this decision will be, and who will be most impacted because we’ve seen the devastating impact of abortion bans play out in Ohio and in states across the country. Let me be clear ABORTION IS STILL LEGAL IN OHIO RIGHT NOW, AND WE WILL CONTINUE TO CARE FOR THOSE IN NEED.”

The decision came as a result of Mississippi’s 2018 Gestational Age Act, which limited abortion access at the 15-week mark except “in cases of medical emergencies and in cases of severe fetal abnormality.” The act was challenged in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which was argued before the court in 2021.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion for the ruling. In May, a draft of the decision was leaked in which Alito wrote, “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled.”

In the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the court retained its initial ruling from Roe v. Wade regarding abortion, stating that restrictions on abortions are unconstitutional if their “purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”

Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” wrote Alito in the opinion of the court. “Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.”

In a press release, Yost stated, “This decision returns abortion policy to the place it has always belonged: to the elected policy branches of government. Roe was poorly reasoned, a doctrine of shifting sands that invited perpetual litigation.”

Emma Andrus is managing editor. Contact her at [email protected]. The Associated Press contributed to this reporting.