For the first time in many years, the pro-life movement has an opportunity to make significant legislative gains for the protection and dignity of unborn children, with the arrival of a president-elect and congress that are sympathetic to the pro-life cause. Unfortunately, some in the pro-life movement don’t see it that way, as evidenced by Ohio Governor John Kasich’s recent veto of a groundbreaking pro-life bill earlier this month.
Seizing on the newfound momentum of last month’s election, the members of the Ohio legislature introduced H.B 69, which would have outlawed abortion after detection of a fetal heartbeat.
The bill sailed through both chambers of the state house with a wide margin, yet when presented to the self-professed, pro-life Governor John Kasich, he vetoed the bill, opting to sign a 20-week abortion ban instead.
While the Governor deserves credit for signing the 20-week bill, many in the pro-life movement are perplexed over Kasich’s timidity and his inability to enact additional legislation, which would have added life-saving protection for a thousands more unborn children in Ohio. According to the Columbus Dispatch, over 99% of Ohio’s 21,000 annual abortions occur before the 20th week of pregnancy, with the majority of those occurring after a heartbeat can be detected.
Kasich, and some of his supporters, argue that the veto was “strategic,” and that the heartbeat bill was sure to be face challenges at the court level, which could have cost the state financially and potentially “cause irreparable harm to the pro-life movement.”
Yet, upon closer examination, these arguments for strategic appeasement appear to be a miscalculation, at best.
Certainly the heartbeat bill would have faced opposition if passed; this is true for virtually every pro-life bill that is passed into law, including 20-week bans, which Governor Kasich and his supporters vehemently claimed was the only viable option.
While the thought of a court level hurdle may be daunting, the state legislatures and the supporters of the heartbeat bill increased optimism that the makeup of both the US Supreme and appellate courts may shift under a pro-life administration, especially Ohio’s 6th District Court of Appeals. This was in light of several recent pro-life cabinet appointments by the president-elect.
There’s no evidence that a judicial battle over the heartbeat bill would harm pro-life movement as some have claimed. While similar bills were eventually overturned in both North Dakota and Arkansas, no further harm was done to the movement, in fact the opposite occurred, as these bills sparked a national conversation, saved lives during their implementation, and set a precedent for future legislation, such as this bill in Ohio.
Equally frivolous is the alleged financial burden which the state would incur for defending this bill. During the bill’s passage through the house, several prominent pro-life attorneys, including Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, had offered their services pro bono, in the event of a court challenge. Really, Governor, how much is the life of an unborn child worth?
While Governor Kasich must be commended for his pro-life stance in the past, in this instance he has poignantly ignored the will of Ohio’s legislature, the elected representatives of the people. When the opportunity was in his hands, he failed his duty to govern, serve, and protect all Ohio citizens, born and unborn.
Perhaps the Governor fears he would appear “extreme,” as some of so-called “moderate” Republicans have labelled the bill, the same “moderates” who at the time, opposed the partial birth abortion ban; a ban that most Republicans—including the same moderates—now support. We’ve been here before.
The underlying issue in this case, is appeasement to fear. If the strategy of the pro-life movement is cowardice in the face of future legal challenges, then it will lose. Victory will never be gained through fear of the potential. Let us hope that if presented with a similar opportunity, other governors to take a stand and find the courage their office entails.