December 7, 2016; Reuters

Legislators in Ohio have passed a bill banning abortion at the first sign of a fetal heartbeat, making abortion illegal as early as six weeks after conception, when many women are still unaware they are pregnant. If anti-abortion Republican Governor John Kasich signs the bill, it will become one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws.

Previously, Kasich has questioned whether the “heartbeat” law would even be constitutional. Courts in other states have struck down similar laws, with the Supreme Court refusing to hear appeals. But with a vacant SCOTUS seat waiting to be filled by the incoming Republican president, anti-abortion advocates and the GOP hope such legislation will be less vulnerable to challenges.

“A new president, new Supreme Court appointees change the dynamic, and there was consensus in our caucus to move forward,” said Ohio Senate President Keith Faber.

The Ohio legislation, part of a wider child abuse bill, allows for abortions in cases where the mother’s life is at risk but not in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomalies or maternal mental health issues.

Abortion has been legal since 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled that women had a constitutional right to control their own reproductive health. But the issue has become one of the most divisive in American politics, with the Republican Party making it their mission to undermine Roe v. Wade with increasingly restrictive state-level abortion laws.

At the end of the 2016 state legislative session in June, 14 states had passed laws making access to abortion more difficult, the fifth year in a row that saw a large number of anti-abortion restrictions passed in states. Restrictions already on the books include requiring abortions be performed by a licensed physician, prohibiting private insurance plans from providing coverage, allowing hospitals to refuse to perform the procedure, and enforcing mandatory counseling for women seeking an abortion. This often includes telling women that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer, although this has never been proven.

Women’s health organizations, not surprisingly, slammed Ohio’s six-week ban legislation. NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director, Kellie Copeland, released a statement saying: “Once a woman has made the decision to end a pregnancy, she needs access to safe, legal healthcare in her community. This bill would effectively outlaw abortion and criminalize physicians that provide this care to their patients.”

Planned Parenthood Action Fund Executive Vice President, Dawn Laguens added: “After years of passing anti-abortion laws under the guise of protecting women’s health and safety, they lay bare their true motives: to ban abortion in the state of Ohio. Make no mistake –– these bills punish women.”

Planned Parenthood also detailed John Kasich’s “record of decimating women’s health care in Ohio,” which includes restrictive measures that have shut down almost half of the state’s abortion providers. Kasich has also signed off on legislation that prohibits counselors from telling rape victims about abortion access, and has defunded wide-ranging Planned Parenthood health care services including cancer screenings, domestic violence prevention, HIV testing and the state’s largest infant mortality prevention program, putting the lives of both women and children at risk.—Melinda Crosby