In an alarming progression of the nation's most stringent abortion restrictions, a Ohio's House Health Committee passed a "Heartbeat" bill on Thursday that would ban abortions in the state once a fetal heartbeat has been detected. The Republican-led House Health and Aging Committee passed the bill 11 to 6 after hours of emotional testimony from both sides.The bill, written by Rep. Lynn R. Wachtmann — a man — would make abortions illegal as soon as a heartbeat was detected in a fetus, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — at which time a woman might not even realize she's carrying. According to The Columbus Dispatch, a doctor who performs an abortion after that time could face a fifth-degree felony, which carries a 6- to 12-month prison term. Although it includes exception when preventing the death or serious harm of the mother, an abortion in the events of rape or incest is not permitted.
Testimony reached a feverish pitch at times, said the local paper. Democratic Representative John Patrick Carney grilled a supporter of the bill, Dr. Dennis Doody, questioning whether his field of expertise was appropriate — Doody is a pediatrician, not an obstetrician who deals with pregnant women — considering the subject. Doody said:
The detection of a heartbeat is a standard universally accepted proof of life. A person, born or yet unborn, is always considered alive when the heartbeat is detected.Before the vote, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized the bill as "unnecessary, dangerous and misogynist," AP reported. Gary Daniels of the ACLU told the committee that the measure was "on thin ice" in regards to public policy and constitutional rights, noting that if passed, the organization would file an immediate lawsuit challenging the bill. Courts in North Dakota and Arkansas have struck down similar bills as unconstitutional.
The law seems to be in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling that permitted abortions until about 24 weeks into the pregnancy, when the fetus is viable outside the womb, reported The Dispatch.
The measure has deeply divided anti-abortion advocates and lawmakers. Senate President Keith Faber, a Republican, said that if it were ultimately struck down, it would be a setback to the movement:
I have grave concerns that if the Heartbeat Bill were to be passed, it would jeopardize some of the good, pro-life work that we've done in the General Assembly.... If you pass a version of the Heartbeat Bill that is unconstitutional, it moves the cause of pro-life backwards, not forward.
Other members of the GOP supported the bill. Republican Senator Peggy Lehner, one of the most outspoken politicians against abortion, said that its passage would most likely not have any immediate impact, adding:
Should we pass it anyway as a statement? I'm always in favor of making a statement that we should protect human life.
Honestly, though, that this debate is still flying around is a mystery to me. As a staunch believer in women's rights — and by extension, the right to choice — those in positions of authority trying to impose their personal values on their constituents and in blatant violation of constitutional rights, is deeply disgusting to me.
The most on-point statement about Ohio's pro- and anti-choice debate came from Democratic Representative Robert F. Hagan, when he said at the hearing:
I did not put my hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.
In 2011, Senate leader Tom Niehaus, a Republican, refused to let a similar Heartbeat Bill go to a vote, on the grounds that it was too controversial. It's not clear if the House will take up this bill or not. According to The Dispatch, even if it passes the House, whether it will make through the Senate this time is, thankfully, uncertain.
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