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"Heartbeat Bill" Could Pass In Ohio Legislature This Year Motivating Supporters And Opponents

The bill that would ban abortion at the first detectable fetal heartbeat has been introduced three times in four years, and it appears to have its best shot at passing this time around.

The so-called “Heartbeat Bill” has always had dozens of co-sponsors, but has never moved far. The controversial measure passed the Ohio House in 2011, but stalled in the Senate. It was reintroduced in the last two-year General Assembly, and it failed when it was brought to the floor in a surprising move during the lame duck session. It’s been reintroduced, and Republican Speaker Cliff Rosenberger of Clarksville has signed onto it, along with 49 other members of the 99 member House. And Rosenberger says he won’t delay in putting it to a full House vote once it’s out of committee.

“It’s got a sufficient amount of co-sponsors, and on top of that I believe it’s got even more support in the chamber that aren’t on as co-sponsors,” says Rosenberger. “So when it comes out of committee, we’ll put it on the floor.”

But there’s likely a fight ahead in the Senate. President Keith Faber identifies as pro-life, but he has been a target of “Heartbeat Bill” backers, who said in an e-mail last month that he was using his powerful position to speak out against the bill. Faber has said the “Heartbeat Bill” doesn’t ban abortion but regulates it, and that it’s likely unconstitutional. Janet Folger Porter leads Faith2Action, which has pushed for the “Heartbeat Bill” since it was first proposed.

“One thing that we have never had before is this kind of time,” Folger Porter says. “If we get this bill through as quickly as it appears it’s going to go through the House, then we’re going to have a year and a half, perhaps, to get the grassroots effort mounted to get this through the Senate.”

And Folger Porter says the goal was always to use the “Heartbeat Bill” to get to the US Supreme Court for a chance to overturn the decision that legalized abortion, Roe v. Wade. And she may get her way if it passes, because the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has already said it will file a lawsuit if it becomes law.  And the ACLU’s Gary Daniels says it might not work out well for “Heartbeat Bill” backers. “What supporters of this bill really are setting themselves up for are court challenges that further affirm Roe v. Wade, rather than strike down Roe v. Wade,” Daniels says. “So essentially, in a roundabout way that’s completely predictable, what they’re going to be doing is actually helping the pro-choice side rather than the anti-choice side.”

And that’s the worry of Senate President Faber and of Ohio Right to Life, which opposed the “Heartbeat Bill” the first time it was proposed but now doesn’t take an official position – though it remains critical of the measure. President Mike Gonidakis says similar “heartbeat bill” bans have been struck down in North Dakota and Arkansas.

“It’s very worrisome because the ACLU will sue, they will hold their threat seriously,” says Gonidakis. “And once it gets into the federal courts, we lose control of it – we can’t ask for legislative fixes and the judges will take it from there.”

If the “Heartbeat Bill” isn’t voted out of the House Community and Family Advancement Committee before lawmakers go home for spring break at the end of the month, it will likely move not long after they return in April.