Ohio Rep. Ron Hood, R-Ashville, recently introduced one of the most extreme pieces of anti-abortion legislation in the country.
The measure – Ohio House Bill 565, introduced by Hood last week – would ban all abortions, even in the case of rape, incest or danger to a woman’s life, if approved by the Ohio House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Kasich.
The 78th District, which Hood represents, includes Trimble Township on the northern tip of Athens County. Hood’s home in Ashville is in Pickaway County, south of Columbus.
As of today, all of Athens County’s Ohio House and Senate representatives either have sponsored or voted for anti-abortion legislation in the last two years, including Ohio Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, who represents almost all of Athens County.
Edwards was one of 11 “yes” votes on the Ohio House Health Committee (of 18 representatives) in favor of House Bill 258 this past December. The bill seeks to ban abortions after a fetus has a detectable heartbeat (about six weeks into pregnancy). A similar bill was vetoed by Kasich last year because of the likelihood for an expensive and ultimately futile legal battle (it’s clearly unconstitutional under U.S. Supreme Court rulings).
While HB 565’s total abortion ban hasn’t been voted on or discussed yet by an Ohio House committee, it’s part of a broader movement among conservatives state legislators across the country: Introduce lots of anti-abortion bills in an attempt to prompt a Supreme Court challenge to Roe V. Wade. That landmark 1973 decision affirmed a woman’s right to have an abortion (with a later high-court ruling clarifying that the right is guaranteed up until the fetus becomes viable). Anti-abortion activists are hoping that under U.S. President Donald Trump a new, conservative, anti-abortion Supreme Court justice will be appointed if a vacancy arises.
Hood spoke to The NEWS over the phone last week as news of his bill was reaching all parts of the country
“I am very pro-life,” Hood said when he was asked why he introduced the bill. “I believe that life begins at conception. My district is… pro-life, and (the overwhelming majority) of my constituents believe life begins at conception. I am representing my constituents who would like to see the lives of innocent unborn children from being slaughtered.”
Ohio already has a law on the books – signed by Kasich in late 2016 – banning all abortions at 20 weeks after fertilization. Typically, most abortions occur before 24 weeks, in part because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that abortions may be performed until fetuses can be viable outside the womb, which the body of scientific research says is around 24 weeks (as many as 98.5 percent of abortions occur before 21 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights research group).
House Bill 565 ignores precedent in American abortion law, however; it would ban all abortions, and criminalize the act of getting an abortion or receiving an abortion. The bill defines an “unborn human” as a person under Ohio law, and could mean a prosecutor could decide to charge with murder somebody who ends a pregnancy with an abortion.
Rep. Hood was asked about the harm that would likely come about to women if his bill were to pass – women being forced to carry babies to term that they cannot support, including when they’ve been raped.
“I believe that the very invasive procedure of going into a womb of a woman and killing her baby is very… probably the most harmful thing to a woman that you could possible do,” Hood said.
“My goal is to protect the slaughter of innocent children regardless of how they were conceived,” he added. “They are innocent children, and I do not believe there’ a justification of the slaughter.”
The ACLU of Ohio is currently challenging another law approved by Ohio’s conservative-majority government last November, which bans all abortions after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome.
All four of the men who represent parts of Athens County in the Ohio General Assembly –Reps. Edwards and Hood, and Sens. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, and Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, – voted for that bill. (Hoagland represents all of Athens County except for Trimble Township, which is in Balderson’s district.)
In a court order granting a preliminary injunction on the Down syndrome anti-abortion law earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Timothy Black (Southern Ohio District) said that federal abortion law makes it clear that “a state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.”
Gary Daniels, the ACLU of Ohio’s chief lobbyist, called HB 565 “blatantly unconstitutional, and everybody knows that.” He said the strategy is clear with both HB 565 and other historically extreme anti-abortion bills in Ohio: “They think they can get one of these lawsuits on one of these bills up before the U.S. Supreme Court.”
ATHENS COUNTY’S MAIN HOUSE representative, Edwards, laid out his views on abortion in an email to The NEWS Tuesday, though he declined to comment on the potential for bills that he voted for, including the “Heartbeat Bill,” to be challenged and struck down in the judiciary.
“I am pro-life and oppose abortion except in cases of rape, incest and life of the mother,” Edwards said. “That being said, we cannot only care about life before a child is born. We must value life after birth as well. That is why I am focused on ensuring access to adequate nutrition, health care, education and opportunities that certain areas in our state are lacking, such as southeast Ohio.
“Specifically regarding the Rep. Hood legislation (HB565), I have not reviewed the bill, which was just introduced and has not had a hearing.”
Edwards, when asked why he voted for the Down syndrome anti-abortion law, responded that he’s spent “a lot of time working with and around” children and adults with developmental disabilities in his district.
“Whether it be at the Beacon School, Athens Community Singers, Passion Works Studio, or many more, these children and adults are an asset to our community,” Edwards said. “We have a great support system locally with great organizations that allow these individuals to serve a unique purpose. “
The New York Times, in the conclusion of an editorial published on March 25, wrote, “Bills like the Ohio total abortion ban seem outrageous, because they are. But if there’s any lesson to learn from them, it’s that the Republican anti-abortion strategy doesn’t stop with one extreme bill. If it’s up to them, they won’t stop until it’s impossible for many or all women in America to make their own choices about whether to access a safe, popular and common form of health care.”