Ohio

Pro-Life Splinter Group Hopes to Jumpstart Heartbeat Bill With Attack Ads

Organizations

A new Ohio-based pro-life group that formed following an exodus of top staffers from Ohio Right to Life plans to target Republicans with an ad campaign promoting the so-called Heartbeat Bill.

The group, Faith2Action, sent tens of thousands of postcards to Republican voters in districts held by nine key state senators: John Eklund, Keith Faber, Jim Hughes, Shannon Jones, Thomas Niehaus, Scott Oelslager, and Chris Widener.  Full-page ads in major newspapers throughout the state were also purchased by the pro-life group.  The newspaper ad targeting the senators prominently a features a rhinoceros, an obvious reference to Faith2Action’s belief that the Republican politicians are “RINOs,” or Republicans In Name Only.

The so-called “RINO Test” campaign asks legislators to self-identify as “[standing] by the Republican platform by calling for an immediate floor vote in the Ohio Senate on the Heartbeat bill, or identify as “Republican in Name Only ” and being “content with [stalling] and [making] excuses — therefore [accepting] and [conforming] to Roe v. Wade, [having] no desire to challenge the 1973 United States Supreme Court decision that started the national debate over abortion.”

Earlier this month, Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus announced that the Senate had no current intention of passing the Heartbeat Bill due to concerns about its constitutionality. Supporters of the bill have attacked Niehaus for delaying the bill’s progress through the Senate.

Adding to Niehaus’s irritation, the bill’s supporters have a history of adding last-minute amendments and revisions without giving the Senate enough time for consideration. In December of 2011, Ohio Pro-Life Action submitted a list of twenty requested amendments after the bill had been passed by the House and was ready for consideration by the Senate.

“What I find interesting is that after months of being berated for not moving the bill, that this bill was vetted in the House and we should just pass it the way it was, now at the eleventh hour they have apparently decided there are changes that are needed,” Niehaus said.

Niehaus also noted, in his May of 2012 open letter to fellow pro-life Ohioans, that respected pro-life legal experts, who have spent years advancing strategies to overturn [Roe vs. Wade], told us that the risk of a bad ruling on HB 125 could have a negative and unintended consequence of reaffirming Roe vs. Wade

Opponents of the Heartbeat Bill note that, if the State of Ohio failed to convince judges that the bill was constitutional, the millions of dollars spent on litigation costs would effectively provide additional funding to those in Ohio’s pro-abortion movement.

The bill, which would have been the eighth anti-abortion bill passed by the 129th General Assembly, has caused a visible, festering split in the Ohio pro-life movement.

Opponents and skeptics, a category in which Ohio Right to Life and Ohioans United for Life became entrenched, questioned the advisability of passing state legislation intended to force constitutional challenges at the national level.

Due to the passage of the Ohio Healthcare Freedom Amendment in 2011, also known as Issue 3, it is unconstitutional for any federal, state, or local law or rule to prohibit the purchase or sale of healthcare or health insurance. Existing federal laws and court decisions raised concerns among legislators, as well.

Faith2Action’s leader, former Ohio Right to Life legislative director Janet Porter, insists that constitutional concerns are irrelevant.

“If you believe Issue 3 makes the heartbeat bill unconstitutional, then you’d believe that the Senate can’t legislate anything,” said Porter. “The role of the legislature is to protect human life.”

During the debate over the bill last year, rumors surrounded the Statehouse that the bill’s supporters were fully aware of the bill’s probable unconstitutionality, in hopes that the bill’s passage would trigger a battle in the United States Supreme Court — with the ultimate intention of the Supreme Court reversing its 1973 decision.

Under current Supreme Court rulings, women can legally get an abortion until the point where a fetus is viable outside of the womb, which is usually around 24 weeks after conception. If passed and signed into law, the Heartbeat Bill would reduce that time limit to as little as eighteen days into a pregnancy.

Lori Viars, Vice President of Warren County Right to Life, told the Dayton Daily News in April of 2011 that affiliated groups definitely see the heartbeat bill as being a potential vehicle to overturn Roe v. Wade. That’s why it’s so exciting.”

The bill’s sponsor, Lynn Wachtmann (R-Napoleon), concurred, saying that “unless we get to the Supreme Court, we won’t be able to move the ball forward as far as saving babies.”

Porter agreed that the bill’s ultimate purpose is to force a federal ruling on the constitutionality of abortion, saying that HB 125 was “drafted to be the arrow in the heart of Roe v. Wade.”

“We’ve grown weary of asking for a millimeter of bread, and then getting crumbs. At some point, we have to ask for all of what we want,” she said. “And there is no time better than now.”

However, representatives from the more traditional pro-life groups insist that their incremental approach will pay off in the long run.

In December of 2011, Americans United for Life president CharmaineYoest told US Catholic magazine that the pro-life movement’s fight was akin to “[pushing] a boulder uphill, and you do that inch by inch and mile by mile. If there were a way to abolish abortion tomorrow, we would all be anxious to nail that down.”

Porter, the former Ohio Right to Life leader who now runs Faith2Action, believes that the splintering of the Ohio pro-life movement – between members of the “rank and file” and “leadership” – is due to an excess of timidity among the “leadership” and not a disagreement over legal strategy.

“The national organizations are notorious for taking these extremely small, incremental steps, ” Porter said, “At some point, after forty years, we actually need to do what we were founded to do: not regulate abortion, but end it.”

Both sides of the Ohio pro-life schism, however, insist that their respective methods are tailored with the current political balance of the United States Supreme Court especially in mind.

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