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11 December 2016 @ 09:28 pm
Ohio Senate Approves "Heart Beat Bill" Abortion Ban as Part of Unrelated Bill  
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio Senators, mostly along party lines, voted Tuesday to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually about six weeks into a pregnancy.

Republican lawmakers inserted the anti-abortion "heartbeat bill" language at the last minute into a bill revising state child abuse and neglect laws. The bill previously cleared the House, so it will not receive additional hearings.

The House is expected to vote on the bill Tuesday night. If signed by Gov. John Kasich, the legislation would make Ohio's abortion laws the most restrictive in the nation. But the bill has split abortion foes.

Critics, including Ohio Right to Life, have long said they're sympathetic to the effort, but assert it would not survive a constitutional challenge.

For that reason, the Senate previously declined to act on the heartbeat bill. Senate President Keith Faber told reporters numerous times that the legislation would be found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

What changed for Faber?


Donald Trump was elected, Faber told reporters after session, and he will have the opportunity to appoint at least one conservative justice to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"He's changed the dynamic and there was a consensus in our caucus to move forward," Faber said.

The bill was approved in a 20-10 vote, with Republican Sens. Gayle Manning of North Ridgeville and Bill Coley of Liberty Township voting with Democrats against the bill.

Ohio Right to Life, the state's largest anti-abortion lobby, has opposed the bill because of concerns about constitutionality. Kasich said in 2014 he shared those concerns.

Federal courts blocked similar laws in North Dakota and Arkansas. The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld those lower-court rulings.

Democrats, abortion rights advocates oppose bill

Sen. Kris Jordan, an Ostrander Republican, offered the amendment to a bill that updated state child abuse reporting laws.

"We in this chamber discuss the opportunities for children all in the context of education, medication and infant mortality," Jordan said on the Senate floor. "But through our inaction we ensure that some children won't have the most important opportunity of all -- the opportunity to live."

Sen. Capri Cafaro, Hubbard Democrat, said government should not make medical decisions for women.

"We have no way of anticipating the reasons why women and their families and their doctors and their gods come to the decision they make about their body to terminate a pregnancy," Cafaro said.

Iris Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said legislators are wasting taxpayers' money by passing bills that will not hold up in court.

"To slip it in at the last minute where there's no comment and no opportunity for people to really voice their opinion says we can't trust our legislators," Harvey said in an interview.

A pair of abortion bills

The heartbeat language effectively bans abortion six weeks into a woman's pregnancy, before many women find out they are pregnant. The language provides an exception for when the mother's life is threatened but does not provide exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

The heartbeat bill cleared the House in March 2015, in a 55-40 vote. It never had a hearing in the Senate.

Meanwhile, a 20-week abortion ban cleared the Ohio Senate in June 2015 but hasn't moved in the Ohio House. Faber said an agreement had been reached with the House to pass that bill.

Current Ohio law bans abortion after 24 weeks gestation, and less than 1 percent of all abortions conducted in 2015 happened after 21 weeks gestation.

Both could be on Kasich's desk at the same time.

The child abuse bill contains an appropriation, so Kasich would have line-item veto power when signing the bill containing the heartbeat language.

Last-minute maneuver

Senate Democrats protested the amendment's late filing and relevancy to the child abuse bill. Faber insisted the amendment was filed according to Senate rules, which require amendments to be filed at least 90 minutes before session.

Democrats said they were notified of the amendment at 12:24 p.m. and that it had been filed at 12:10 p.m. Session was scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m., but didn't convene until closer to 1:41 p.m.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni said he asked Faber and other leaders at 11:15 a.m. whether there was anything new for discussion and was told no.

Divided advocates

Janet Porter, president of Faith 2 Action, said supporters sent more than 25,000 emails and flooded lawmakers' phone lines urging action on the bill. Porter said Tuesday that she's confident Trump will appoint several, anti-abortion justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It's a brand new day and we believe that by the time this Ohio heartbeat law gets to the Supreme Court it will be upheld in its entirety," Porter said.

Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis disagreed, noting Trump will only have one justice to replace when he enters office. Adding a conservative justice would take the court from a 5-3 split to a 5-4 split supporting abortion rights.

"You have to be cautious in your approach and if you overreach the courts will set you back and be very fierce against you," Gonidakis said. "Of course we want to save every baby with a beating heart, but we have to deal with the U.S. Supreme Court that is not in our favor."