Last week, Ohio lawmakers passed the "Heartbeat Bill," which bans abortion as early as six weeks—before most women even know that they are pregnant. If signed into law by Governor John Kasich, the bill, which makes no exception for rape, incest, or the health of the woman, would effectively block access to safe and legal abortion in Ohio. However, in a statement to the Huffington Post, members of the nontheistic religion activist group The Satanic Temple claim the bill is a violation of their religious freedoms.
"As the Ohio Bill is imposed for no medical purpose and presents no compelling state interest, it is simply a violation of our free exercise, we will fight back against it, and we will very likely prevail," said spokesperson Lucien Greaves.
This isn't the first time The Satanic Temple has called out restrictive abortion measures. Last year, the group sued Missouri over a law that requires a 72-hour waiting period and the review of an "informed consent" booklet before a woman can obtain an abortion.
According to the group's central tenets, what happens to a person's body is subject to his/her own will, and one's beliefs should align with "the best scientific understanding of the world." Therefore, Greaves said, a fetal heartbeat, which is usually detected about six weeks into a pregnancy, "is irrelevant to the claim of personhood." Rather, he explains in an interview with Broadly, the group believes what defines a person is his/her ability to have complex, cerebral functions; a fetus that is nonviable does not have those abilities.
"To us," he says, "without a belief in the soul, one's cognition really defines who they are as a person and really what makes you what you are. If you don't have that kind of complex cerebral function, you're just not you yet." He also points out that there's a difference between cellular life showing signs of sensation and something having perception.
"I think what this really comes down to," he continues, "at the core of it is the question of the soul, and we don't believe that there's a ghost floating around in advance of the development of cerebral function. Before something is viable, before it has those cerebral functions, it's a part of the woman's body and it's really up to her what becomes of it."
Ohio Republicans in support of the bill say they tried to outlaw termination after a heartbeat is detected in past years, but were unsuccessful. Many have attributed the passing of this year's bill to Donald Trump's election and the promise of conservatives being appointed to the Supreme Court.
Ohio lawmakers also passed another bill which would ban abortion after 20 weeks (Ohio's current law outlaws termination after 24 weeks). According to The Columbus Dispatch, the Ohio State Medical Association and Ohio section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have asked Gov. John Kasich to veto both bills. Kasich has 10 days to make a decision; if he does nothing, the bills automatically become law.
"Make no mistake — these bills punish women," Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement when the bill was passed last week. "We call on Governor John Kasich to veto these unconstitutional abortion bans."
According to Greaves, both bills "show a lack of understanding and a lack of compassion. I really think we're dealing with people who are entirely scientifically ignorant or have no idea what abortion actually is."