WYSO

Ohio Legislature Passes Controversial Heartbeat Bill

Dec 7, 2016

A bill that would ban abortion at the point a fetal heartbeat can be detected was passed late last night in the Ohio House. That vote came a few hours after it was suddenly approved in the Senate. And it got through the legislature in an unexpected way.

Legal abortion supporters protest at Governor John Kasich's official residence.
Credit Jo Ingles

After years of trying to get the so-called Heartbeat Bill passed, and more than a year after it passed the House, Janet Folger Porter of Faith2Action was giddy after the Senate passed it 21 to 10.

“I’ve been practicing this soundbite for about six years, so allow me to say it now, all glory goes to the God of the Impossible, praise to the name of Jesus.”

Ohio’s Senate President, Keith Faber, had been a stalwart critic of the Heartbeat Bill in past years, saying it was unconstitutional. But he says times have changed.

“A new president, new justice appointees changed the dynamic and there was consensus in our caucus to move forward.”

But the Heartbeat Bill didn’t move forward on its own. It was expected the bill could be folded into a measure that would ban abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy. But in a somewhat surprising move, it was attached to a child abuse bill that had widespread support among Republicans and Democrats. And that’s what angered Democratic Senator Charleta Tavares.

“It bastardizes the child abuse and neglect bill because it is taking away the safety and security of children.”

After the Senate passed the plan, it needed to go back to the House for representatives to agree on the change. As House members gathered, supporters of abortion rights protested at the Governor’s official residence just east of downtown Columbus where he was entertaining guests.

A few hours later, the House took up the bill. The debate was emotional as some lawmakers talked about their personal experiences with miscarriages and abortions. Democrat Greta Johnson took issue with the fact that the Heartbeat Bill doesn’t provide exceptions for rape and incest. And she urged lawmakers to put themselves in the shoes of a 12-year-old incest victim.

“What would you say to her if you had to look at her and tell her no, that at 12 years old, she would be forced to carry a baby because she was impregnated by her brother.”

Republican Representative Jim Buchy said he thought passage of the Heartbeat Bill would encourage personal responsibility.

“What we have here is really the need to give people the incentive to be more responsible so we reduce unwanted pregnancies and by the way, the vast majority of abortions are performed on women who were not raped.”

After the House passed the legislation 56 to 39, Republican Speaker Cliff Rosenberger told reporters he realizes opponents of the newly approved abortion ban likely will sue.

“Anytime that you have a bill that deals with something in this realm, there’s always going to be someone who questions the constitutionality and there’s always going to be a potential for litigation and charge and we expect that so we will see what happens.”

The Heartbeat Bill won’t likely be the only abortion restriction passed during this Lame Duck Session. The House is scheduled to take up another bill today - the previously mentioned 20-week abortion ban. That bill has already been passed in the Senate and has the support of Ohio Right to Life. The state's leading anti-abortion organization has long advocated against the Heartbeat Bill, saying it's unconstitutional - a position also held by pro-choice groups.

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