(Toledo, OH) South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds signed legislation last week that would ban most abortions in his state, setting the stage for a Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade.
The new law, which takes effect July 1, would make it illegal for doctors to perform abortions unless the procedure was necessary to save a woman's life. It would make no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
Similar legislation is being considered in Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia.
The state of Ohio, meanwhile, is poised to become one of the principal battlegrounds in what some view as a political war. There are three bills that have been introduced this session related to abortion.
Ohio House Bill 228 is similar to the South Dakota law. The bill would prohibit abortions in the state, making no exception for cases of rape or incest, and would also make travel to another state for the purposes of obtaining an abortion a felony.
The bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Tom Brinkman (R-Cincinnati), said the legislative success of the South Dakota law will trigger renewed efforts across the nation to overturn Roe v. Wade.
"This is a legislative movement that is making considerable headway," he said. "We think that the states should decide for themselves about abortion rather than being forced to rely on a federal court decision to act as legislation."
Brinkman likened the debate to that of another contentious issue.
"This controversy is much like that surrounding the death penalty," he said. "We address the death penalty on a state-by-state basis, and the same should be true for abortion."
HB 228, which has 18 sponsors, should be seen as more than just election-year posturing by conservatives, Brinkman said.
"We are getting ready for the first testimony in the House Health committee," he said. "There is clearly a trend across the country in states like Michigan, Georgia and Tennessee to enact legislation that restricts or prohibits abortion, and which will then act as a trigger for the Supreme Court to take another look at Roe v. Wade."
House Speaker Jon Husted promised "at least one" hearing on the bill.
Brinkman's bill is not the only legislation in the House associated with abortion. HB 239 would prohibit public funding for abortion, while HB 469 would allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or RU-486, the so-called "morning after" pill.
Left: Ohio House rep Tom Brinkman (R - Cincinnati)
Kellie Copeland, the executive director of Ohio's chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League said Ohioans should be "very concerned" about the introduction of such legislation.
"People who care about reproductive rights and who thought they were secure need to wake up," Copeland said. "Rights are in jeopardy now more than any time since the Roe decision in 1973."
Copeland said HB 228 is the most threatening to reproductive rights.
"What is most troubling is that the bill allows for no exceptions, even in the case of a mother's life being in danger," she said. "The supporters of this bill demonstrate a shocking ignorance toward women's health issues."
The hidden costs of such legislation are worrisome, Copeland said.
"Outlawing abortion will only make it more dangerous," she said. "We will wind up with women in morgues and hospital emergency rooms; laws such as HB 228 will push women back 40 years."
Abortion legislation also went into effect in 2005 that requires parental consent for minors and a minimum 24-hour waiting period for any woman seeking an abortion. Copeland said this is part of an "incremental" strategy favored by many pro-life groups.
"By whittling away at reproductive rights, instead of a full-scale assault like HB 228, the strategy is to lull people," she said. "Gradual restrictions are much less noticeable than complete prohibition."
The Governor's Office
Irrespective of action by the state Legislature, the future of abortion in Ohio will remain in the hands of one person: the governor.
Ohio voters have clear choices on the topic.
"I believe in a woman's right to choose," said Ted Strickland, the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate. "I would veto any attempt to outlaw a woman's right to choose if Roe v. Wade were overturned."
Strickland, a U.S. House representative from Ohio's 6th District, said he favors a moderate approach to the issue of abortion.
"Abortion should be safe, legal and rare," he said. "And, in Congress, I have supported middle-ground legislation on this subject, such as the partial-birth abortion ban."
Jim Petro, the Republican state attorney general, received the endorsement of a prominent pro-life group.
"I have worked tirelessly to advance the pro-life agenda and have taken an activist approach to specifically advancing the pro-life cause in Ohio," he said in a prepared statement. "I'm proud the Ohio Right to Life Political Action Committee has recognized my commitment protecting unborn life."
Petro did not specifically address the question of whether he would sign legislation banning abortion in Ohio.
Republican Ken Blackwell, the Ohio Secretary of State, did not respond to calls or e-mails regarding his position on abortion. His campaign Web site says Blackwell's "opposition to abortion has been steadfast and consistent," and that he would advance a culture of life" if elected governor.
Copeland said pro-life advocates may try another tactic.
Left: Taft - lame duck strategy?
"It is entirely possible that a lame duck Governor Taft might be used to sign anti-abortion legislation after the election," she said. "Using this approach, no one would have to take the heat for a politically unpopular decision."
Taft, traditionally a strong pro-life politician, did not return calls for a statement on the proposed abortion legislation and whether he would sign such a law.
Mark Rickel, a spokesman for Bob Taft, declined to speculate on whether the governor would sign any particular piece of legislation.
"HB 228 is currently under legal review, and that is all we can say about this bill," Rickel said.
Taft took political flack from conservatives in 2002, when he named pro-choice Republican Jennette Bradley as lieutenant governor.
Copeland said the political fallout from legislation banning abortion could be severe.
"The vast majority of Americans do not want to see Roe overturned," she said. "Politicians who move to outlaw abortion will pay a tremendous political price at the polls."