John Kasich’s Ambitions and the Failure of Ohio’s 2018 Heartbeat Bill: An Insider’s View

By Tom Gilson Published on January 9, 2019

Late last month Ohio failed by one vote to enact a Heartbeat Bill, which would have prohibited abortion once a fetal heartbeat has become detectable. It had all the appearance of a close call, but it was in fact political theater for the sake of John Kasich’s next bid for president, says Ohio State Representative Jim Butler. But Kasich is gone now. The bill is likely to pass in 2019, and it could very likely contribute to an eventual Supreme Court challenge against Roe v. Wade.

Rep. Butler shared all this at a January 6 meeting with about fifty people at Fairhaven Church in Centerville, Ohio. (Disclosure: this writer attends that church and is on the committee that hosted the meeting.)

Ohio’s Republican Leaders Blocking the Bill

Ohio State Representative Jim Butler, speaking with a group at Fairhaven Church, Centerville, Ohio, on January 6, 2019.

Ohio State Representative Jim Butler, speaking with a group at Fairhaven Church, Centerville, Ohio, on January 6, 2019.

This was at least Ohio’s third attempt at passing a heartbeat bill, according to Butler, who has represented his district near Dayton since 2011. The 2011 bill had 50 House co-sponsors, out of only 99 members in that chamber. So there was no question of a majority, but House leadership wouldn’t allow it out of committee.

In a later session House member John Adams tried adding a Heartbeat amendment to another crucial bill. The Republican party’s own leadership tabled that amendment.

“Issues get managed for political purposes, to appear good,” said Butler. “For ambition and power, people will trade human lives.” Party leaders made a show of trying to pass the bill, in his opinion, but that’s exactly what it was: show.

John Kasich’s Ambitions

Above all else, it’s about Gov. John Kasich’s presidential ambitions. Kasich kept the Heartbeat Bill off the floor until he could announce his candidacy for president in 2016. When the bill was finally approved by both houses late in 2018, the governor vetoed it — again, with a view to a potential future run for president.

“For ambition and power, people will trade human lives.”

“We had the votes to override,” said Butler. Senator Bill Beagle “flipped” at the last minute, though. It left the veto one vote short of a successful override. 

But that was orchestrated, too, in Butler’s view. Party leaders had no intention of letting Kasich suffer such a visible defeat during his final days as governor. So if Beagle hadn’t flipped, they’d have gotten someone else to do it. “They get people to do what they’re told, and take the fall for it.”

Meanwhile Kasich’s own numbers have flipped, according to a report today at Cleveland.com. His approval is higher among Democrats than Republicans in Ohio. Butler thinks it likely that Kasich will run as an independent for president in 2020.

2019: New Leadership, New Hope

Meanwhile Ohio is under new Republican leadership, as of the beginning of 2019. And it could make all the difference. 

The state’s incoming governor, Mike DeWine, has no apparent presidential ambitions, and he has promised to sign a Heartbeat Bill. The Ohio House has a new speaker, too: Larry Householder, whom Butler firmly expects to guide the bill toward easy passage early this year. “It will come up right away,” said Butler in a follow-up interview. “There are legislators already planning on introducing it. … I would hope for swift passage.” 

“It’s about life,” he added — more than once. “That’s the issue.”

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Success would make Ohio the third state to pass a heartbeat bill, following Iowa and North Dakota. North Dakota’s law has been blocked by the 8th Circuit Court, and Iowa’s stands under an injunction preventing its enactment, for now. Butler expects Ohio’s law to face similar challenge from abortion proponents, immediately after passage. Momentum is building, though, and Butler sees these laws as potentially paving a path that could lead to a Supreme Court challenge of Roe v. Wade. 

In one such scenario, heartbeat bills would be allowed as provisions under Roe, that is, without overturning it as precedent. “We’re talking about life as an issue,” said Butler. “If an unborn baby has a beating heart, their odds of survival go way up.” Another scenario could mean overturning Roe, as having been wrongly decided at the time. 

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