As historic legislation passes in other states, Ohio’s Heartbeat Bill awaits an uncertain fate.
Ohio’s Heartbeat Bill may have been pronounced dead during the last session of the Ohio Senate, but it could get a second chance at life in 2013 (unlike those it aims to protect).
Five months ago, then-Senate President Tom Niehaus (R-New Richmond) moved to kill H.B. 125, ensuring (for the moment) that the Heartbeat Bill was “totally dead.” The bill had languished for eighteen months in the Republican-dominated Senate, stymied by rivalry and resentment between bill proponents and Niehaus.
After passing the House in June 2011, the bill rapidly proved a polarizing force on the political right. If passed, it would have mandated tests for fetal heartbeat and prohibited abortions once a heartbeat could be detected. The bill became a litmus test to determine if one was truly “pro-life” and exacerbated the division between social conservatives (especially evangelicals) and less conservative Republicans.
To say that proponents of the bill and Niehaus didn’t see eye-to-eye is to say the Hatfields didn’t really care for the McCoys. The rivalry had taken on a personal edge. Proponents refused to accept that a Republican with the power to pass the most aggressive anti-abortion law in the nation would dig in his heels and refuse. Niehaus, in turn, resented the bill’s proponents’ criticism of him. Incendiary rhetoric emerged, and a stalemate ensued.
Five months later, Heartbeat Bill supporters are looking to take up the fight in a new legislative session–and this time, they can point to other states for precedent.
New Energy in Pro-Life Movement
A look around the nation shows an undertow of pro-life activity with unparalleled momentum:
A Gallup poll published last May declared that those self-identifying as “pro-choice” were at an all time low of 41%, while those who self-identify as “pro-life” are at an all time high. Interestingly, young people are leading the way (even as the majority of these same millennials also support gay marriage).
In January, on the infamous 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, TIME Magazine (not exactly a conservative mouthpiece) led with a cover story that declared, “40 Years Ago, Abortion-Rights Activists Won an Epic Victory with Roe v. Wade. They’ve Been Losing Ever Since.” The story sounded an alarm for the pro-abortion community by documenting the pro-life gains that have transpired since that fateful 1973 Supreme Court decision.
More recently, last March, Arkansas passed the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, banning abortions at 12 weeks, when a doctor can detect a heartbeat. The bill, at that time the most stringent restriction on abortion in the country, was championed by State Senator Jason Rapert, who, after referring to the 50 million abortions since Roe as “genocide,” proclaimed, “When is enough enough? It’s time to take a stand.” Even after the state’s Democratic governor vetoed the act, Sen. Rapert and his allies rallied enough support to override the governor’s veto.
Not to be outdone, North Dakota followed days later with a slew of bills aimed at ending abortion in that state, robbing Arkansas of its newly earned title as the “most pro-life state in the union.” The ND legislature banned taxpayer funding of abortion providers (namely, Planned Parenthood) and prevented genetic-based abortions (e.g., Down’s syndrome). It also passed its own “heartbeat bill,” and even proposed a “personhood” constitutional amendment that citizens will vote on in November.
With these amazing strides in the pro-life movement, there’s hope for Ohio. Whether that hope will materialize hinges on a new Senate President and continuing fervor from Heartbeat Bill proponents.
Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) took the reins in January, and he is well known to be more conservative than his predecessor. President Faber has previously stated his support for the bill. At present, however, the Heartbeat Bill has not been re-introduced, leaving supporters to wonder when it will be moved. Proponents continue to insist that a strong version of the bill be introduced, not a watered down substitute that lacks any real teeth–and they are tired of waiting.
“We have been promised various timelines over and over again–and they come and go with no bill. The latest is that the Senate will introduce it ‘in May.’ Well here we are in May, and it hasn’t happened yet,” said Lori Viars, Vice President of Warren County Right to Life, in an interview with OCR.
Viars continued, “Our Republican State Reps and State Senators need to hear from us. They probably think we’ll give up and forget about it, but we can’t do that. Too many lives depend on our action. We get the government we demand.”
Indeed, Heartbeat Bill supporters appear in it for the long haul–encouraged, but not contented, to have inspired landmark pro-life legislation in Arkansas. Meanwhile, as State Senator Rapert put it, “babies in Arkansas will be very grateful” for the fight in Ohio.
Adam Josefczyk is Vice President of Operations for Citizens for Community Values and Co-Founder and Executive Director of Ohio Conservative Review.