Republican lawmakers in Ohio unveiled legislation Wednesday that would ban abortions of any fetus found to have a heartbeat, a move that could ban most abortions in the state.


Under legislation sponsored by State Representative Lynn Wachtmann, doctors would be forbidden from performing an abortion the moment a heartbeat is detected in the fetus. Fetuses generally develop a heartbeat within six weeks of conception, and in some pregnant women a heartbeat can be detected within 18 days.

The Youngstown Vindicator describes the bill as "the most restrictive abortion ban in the country" and potentially "a precedent for other states eyeing comparable restrictions."

Robyn Marty at Alternet reports that the "heartbeat bill" amounts to an almost total ban on abortion.

For most women, [the law] would provide a window of two weeks or less in order to learn she was pregnant, make her decision about the pregnancy, arrange for an appointment, gather money for an abortion, obtain the mandatory counseling and sit through the required 24 hour waiting period. For a woman with irregular menstrual cycles, by the time she realizes she is pregnant it likely would already be too late to do anything but continue the pregnancy.

Legal experts say the bill challenges Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the US. That ruling set the standard that a pregnant woman can abort a fetus until it is "viable," meaning capable of living outside the womb. But since a fetus develops a heartbeat long before it becomes "viable," the proposed Ohio law challenges that standard.

That prompted Case Western Law School professor Jessie Hill to call the bill "symbolic legislation ... that's clearly unconstitutional," reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Plain Dealer noted that, with last fall's elections, all three branches of Ohio's state government are under Republican control, making the state a prime candidate for experimentation with a socially conservative agenda.

"What they're doing is trying to push the point at which the woman's rights are subordinated to those of the unborn to a much earlier point in pregnancy," Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School told ABC News. "It's clearly a frontal challenge to Roe v. Wade."

Rep. Wachtmann did not deny that that was his goal in comments Wednesday.

"As technology improves in medicine, as it continually does, that protection will move closer and closer to conception, which is I think for many of us what our ultimate goal of protecting life is,” he said.

Wachtmann's Ohio House web page says he's involved in the NRA and the Ohio Right to Life Society, and was a recipient of the Ohio Right to Life Defender of Life Award.

The Plain Dealer noted that the "heartbeat bill" is only one of five anti-abortion measures put forward in the Ohio state legislature since the start of the new session.

Another GOP bill introduced last week would ban late-term abortions at 20 weeks. A separate measure would exclude abortion coverage under the new federal health care law, and another would apply stricter parental consent rules for teenagers wanting abortions.

Under current law, minors do not need parental consent if they can convince a juvenile court to allow the abortion. While Ohio has a ban on what critics call partial-birth abortions, women can have abortions by other methods through the ninth month of pregnancy.

Legislators from Georgia and Texas have already asked for copies of Ohio's bill so they can introduce similar bills in their own states, the Plain Dealer reported.