reproductive rights

Ohio Just Became the Fifth State to Ban Abortion at 6 Weeks

Ohio governor Mike DeWine. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Ohio has become the fifth state to ban abortion at six weeks. A so-called “fetal heartbeat bill,” which outlaws abortion before most women even realize they’re pregnant, passed the state legislature on Wednesday morning; newly elected governor Mike DeWine signed it the next day.

Ohio joins four other states that have passed similar six-week abortion bans: Mississippi, Kentucky, Iowa, and North Dakota. In addition, Georgia passed a six-week abortion ban back in March, and openly anti-abortion Governor Brian Kemp, who has voiced his support for the bill, has until May 10 to sign it.

Heartbeat bills ban all or most abortions once a heartbeat can be detected — which is usually at the embryonic stage, around five or six weeks — severely restricting the usual, legal threshold at which states can ban abortion, which is considered to be when a fetus is viable outside the womb (around 24 weeks). Such bills, in effect, prohibit nearly all abortions, because they leave women with such a small window in which to confirm they are pregnant, and then have the procedure done.

While these laws have all been challenged in court, and blocked from taking effect because they run counter to Roe v. Wade, they are part of a larger effort to eventually overturn Roe at level of the Supreme Court, and a growing push against women’s reproductive rights in the United States. Here is a closer look at what has happened with these bans in each state.


Ohio’s fetal heartbeat bill was shut down twice before, by former governor John Kasich. Ohio’s current governor, however, Mike DeWine, signed it shortly after it passed the legislature. The ACLU has said it will challenge the measure as soon as it is signed.

Georgia (passed; not yet signed by the governor)

Passed in March, Georgia’s HB481, or the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, would ban all abortions after six weeks, including in cases of rape or incest. It also redefines the who is considered to be a “natural persons,” expanding the term to include “an unborn child.” This new definition would potentially make mothers who receive abortions and doctors who administer them open to criminal prosecution.

Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, who has voiced his support for the bill, has until May 10th to sign it into law.


In March, governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi, a state with only one abortion clinic, signed a bill which banned nearly all abortions once doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat (around five or six weeks). The bill was immediately challenged by reproductive rights groups.

“This ban is one of the most restrictive abortion bans signed into law, and we will take Mississippi to court to make sure it never takes effect,” Hillary Schneller, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights told the New York Times in March.

While Governor Bryant is prevented by state term limits from seeking reelection, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, who is seeking to replace Bryant, has said he is willing to spend state funds defending the abortion ban in court. The law has an effective date of July 1, 2019, but because of the legal challenge against it, will likely not go into effect.

Last year, in November, a federal judge struck down another wildly restrictive abortion bill passed in Mississippi, one that would ban abortion after 15 weeks.

“The record is clear: States may not ban abortions prior to viability,” U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves  said in his ruling.


Days before the Mississippi legislature passed their six-week abortion ban, the Kentucky legislature passed their own, which was signed into law by Kentucky’s Republican governor Matt Bevin on Friday, March 15. It was to go into effect immediately, but that same day, the ACLU filed an immediate challenge, and Judge David J. Hale of the Western District of Kentucky ruled that the law was potentially unconstitutional, and prevented it from taking effect.


Last year, in May 2018, Iowa lawmakers passed a bill banning most abortions after six weeks, except in cases on rape or incest.

In his ruling, District Court Judge Michael Huppert wrote, “It is undisputed that such cardiac activity is detectable well in advance of the fetus becoming viable.”

Republican state senator Rick Bertand of Sioux City told Reuters when the law first passed. “We created an opportunity to take a run at Roe v. Wade — 100 percent.”

While the six-week abortion ban has not taken effect, Iowa already has sever abortion restrictions in place, like requiring that the parents of a minor be notified before she obtain an abortion, forcing women to undergo ultrasounds before each abortion, and requiring the governor to personally approve each Medicaid-funded abortion, even in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest or fetal anomaly.

North Dakota

When it was enacted in 2013, North Dakota’s “fetal heartbeat” law was the strictest abortion ban in the nation. It was blocked from taking effect by lower courts, and in 2016, the Supreme Court refused to review a lower court’s ruling, thus blocking it permanently.

This post has been updated to reflect that Ohio governor signed the six week abortion ban into law. We will continue to update it as more states continue their assault against the reproductive rights of women.

Ohio Just Became the Fifth State to Ban Abortion at 6 Weeks