Ohio Senate President Puts “Heartbeat Bill” On Life Support


The top Republican in the Ohio Senate last week sent the so-called “heartbeat bill” into legislative limbo, when he announced he had no intention of passing the pro-life legislation. House Bill 125 would have prohibited abortions when a fetal heartbeat could be detected.

In a May 2 letter addressed to “Fellow Pro-Life Ohioan[s],” Senate President Tom Niehaus said the bill was likely unconstitutional, and could also result in the U.S. Supreme Court invalidating other pro-life laws. Without the support of the Senate President, whose duties include the scheduling of session votes on legislation, the bill has little chance of becoming law.

The pro-life movement in Ohio appeared to split into two separate factions during debate over the bill. The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and the Ohio Right to Life (ORL) organization joined the abortion-rights group National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) in opposition to the bill, as it worked its way through the Ohio General Assembly.

Some of the most prominent pro-life groups in the state, such as ORL, had public reservations about the bill, effectively amounting to opposition to the measure. As a result, several county chapters left the state organization and joined the pro-heartbeat bill group Ohio ProLife Action.

The pro-heartbeat bill movement, including Ohio ProLife Action (OPLA), seems to be mainly compromised of former ORL  staffers. OPLA is led by former ORL president Linda Theis, and one of the most visible activists for passage of the legislation is Janet Folger-Porter, Ohio Right to Life’s former legislative director.

In a recent statement, Folger-Porter said that “it’s time for Senate leadership to quit hiding behind empty excuses and bring the fully protective Heartbeat Bill to a floor vote, or admit the pro-life platforms they ran on were a charade.”

Stephanie Krider, the current legislative director for ORL, told U.S. Catholic magazine that “we just don’t know that [HB 125] is the right strategy.” Opponents of the bill — both pro-abortion and pro-life — argued that the bill was poorly written, and even unconstitutional.

As early as December 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU of Ohio) announced that it planned to challenge the bill in court on grounds that the bill conflicted with the state’s constitution.  The heartbeat bill would also prevent Ohioans from being forced to purchase health insurance that covers abortion.

In his May 2 letter laying out his objections to the bill, Senate President Niehaus criticized the groups promoting it for “exaggerated and inflammatory” statements in favor of the bill.  “Their claim that we lose ‘more than a school bus full of children every day’ due to a lack of  Senate action on the bill is simply false,” he wrote.

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research organization, estimates that over 3,000 unborn children are aborted each day in the U.S.

In his letter, Niehaus also defended his actions as Senate President, referring to seven pro-life bills, including bans on late-term abortions, abortions in facilities funded by taxpayers, and abortions for minors without paternal consent. Niehaus asserted that Ohio Senate Republicans have done more in the past 16 months to advance the protection of unborn children than any previous General Assembly in state’s history.”

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