Ohio Gov. Kasich Mulling State Abortion Bans

Dec 10, 2016
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now we're going to take a look at a story in Ohio, where the state legislature this week passed a new law banning abortion at six weeks after conception, even though the measure violates the standards set by the Supreme Court. The next day, lawmakers passed a second ban on abortion, this time after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Governor John Kasich now has to decide whether to sign either bill into law. We're joined now by NPR's Jennifer Ludden to sort through this. Jennifer, thanks so much for joining us.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: What's the logic of this six-weeks-after-conception ban?

LUDDEN: Well, they're called the heartbeat bill because that six weeks after conception is the point at which you can first detect a heartbeat. Now, many doctors won't even see a woman this early to confirm a pregnancy. The rate of miscarriage that early is really high. But I have to say, Ohio's not the first right, all right? North Dakota had a six-week ban. Arkansas had a 12-week ban. Now, Roe v. Wade says that, you know, the woman has a right to an abortion until a child is viable outside the womb, which we normally think of as way later. In these cases, North Dakota and Arkansas tried to argue that viability begins at conception because you can keep a frozen embryo alive outside the womb in a lab. Now, this went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which earlier this year said no.

MARTIN: But what then would be the logic of passing such a law now, which has already been adjudicated all the way to the Supreme Court?

LUDDEN: Ohio lawmakers said, well, we have a new dynamic now. They had passed on this for a couple of years in a row. But they said with the President-elect Donald Trump and the possibility of Trump appointing justices to the Supreme Court down the road, this kind of a law might have a better chance.

MARTIN: And then what was the logic of passing the 20-week ban on abortion the following day?

LUDDEN: Well, they're giving their governor some options. So Governor John Kasich has expressed reservations about this bill before. So now the governor has a choice, six-week ban or a 20 week ban. And the thinking is he might go a safer route and perhaps be more willing to sign a 20-week ban or an abortion.

MARTIN: Have the courts ruled on the 20-week issue?

LUDDEN: There are actually 17 states that have 20-week bans on abortion on the books. Now, courts have struck down two of them and another one was just filed last week against a ban in North Carolina. This also is unconstitutional according to abortion rights groups because 20 weeks is several weeks before what's generally considered the point of viability, 23, 24 weeks. But it's a popular measure and popular also among a lot of Republicans in Congress, and we might see them attempt to pass a national 20-week ban again.

MARTIN: So can you just tell us more about the 20-week ban, who is affected by it? And does it offer any exceptions, as these bans commonly do?

LUDDEN: This - it only has an exception for the - if the life of the mother is at stake - not her health, not for rape, not for incest. Now, there's a very small number of abortions after 20 weeks, like 1 and a half percent of all abortions happen that late. But they're often the most painful, difficult cases. A lot of tests for some really serious fetal anomalies don't happen until about this time. And if you were to discover that your fetus had an anomaly, that would not be an exception under Ohio's measure. Also, again, no exception for incest.

I've spoken to doctors who provide abortions, and this does happen. You have a teenager who's a victim of incest, they may be afraid to tell. By the time people figure out what's going on and you're trying to address this, it could be after 20 weeks. Also, abortion rights groups say, you know, the ones who are going to be hurt the most are low-income women who have trouble to find child care, take time off work, travel potentially hundreds of miles to another state to get the procedure this late.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Jennifer, thanks so much.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.