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Ohio’s Abortion Foes Call 2011 The “Best Year Ever”

Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 8:39 AM

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It was a good year for anti-abortion advocates - in fact, the year-end report from Ohio Right To Life calls 2011 the "best year yet". But that means it was a tough year for those who fight for abortion rights. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.

While candidates in 2010 campaigned on jobs and the economy, it was clear early on that the Republican-dominated legislature wanted to make some changes in laws on abortion in Ohio. On February 1, three abortion related bills that would later be signed into law were introduced, including a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy and a revision of rules on judicial bypass of parental consent for minors. And three weeks later, the most controversial bill of them all was unveiled.

“When this becomes law, this will be the most protective legislation in the nation.”

The Heartbeat Bill would outlaw abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is usually around 10 weeks into a pregnancy. And it contains no exemptions for rape or incest. The campaign to pass it is led by Janet Folger Porter, formerly of Ohio Right to Life. As potentially the most restrictive ban on abortion in the nation, the bill got a lot of attention - especially when the first hearing featured ultrasounds on two pregnant women, which abortion rights activists called a stunt. But it came as something of a surprise and a shock to the bill’s backers that it was not endorsed by Ohio Right to Life. Mike Gonadakis is its executive director.

“Well, simply put, the heartbeat bill will ultimately not save one baby’s life.  Unfortunately, we live in a country where the United States Supreme Court has the final say on all legal matters and they have ruled on countless occasions that any restrictions or limitations on abortion pre-viability unfortunately is unconstitutional.”

And on the issue of constitutionality, Gonidakis found rare common ground with the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. Kellie Copeland called the bill - quoting here - “an all out assault on reproductive rights”, which she said Ohioans didn’t vote for.

“They are clamoring for jobs.  They are saying to politicians they elected last November, “you said you would fix the economy.  Let’s get busy"."

The bill passed the House in June. As the Heartbeat Bill’s backers tried to get the Senate to move on it, they also launched a financial assault on Ohio Right to Life. They set up a political action committee, which several local right to life chapters joined after splitting away from the statewide group. Hearings on the bill started in the Senate in December, and as the committee appeared poised to vote, the bill’s backers came forward with dozens of changes.

At the end of 2011, the Heartbeat Bill has flatlined while Senators look them over. It was unusual to see a bill banning abortion split the pro-life community. But it was almost surreal when the American Civil Liberties Union said it would use the Tea Party backed Health Care Freedom Amendment approved by voters to sue the state. The ACLU is taking on the ban on the inclusion of abortion coverage in the marketplace to be set up by the state under the federal health insurance law. And in 2012 - the national group Personhood USA has targeted Ohio for a possible constitutional amendment that would declare fertilized eggs legal persons. Dave Daubenmire is working with Personhood Ohio.

“The killing of unborn children must stop in the state of Ohio.  And we are going to take this initiative out of the hands of those hired mercenaries called Republicans and we are going to put it in the hands of the church.”

Already a progressive group has formed to battle the campaign. Sandy Theis speaks for Healthy Families Ohio.

“This is one of the most extreme anti abortion measures we’ve ever seen.  And it has all sorts of health care consequences, mainly for women.  It would ban a lot of commonly used types of birth control.  It doesn’t have an exception for rape, incest or the health of the mother.”

The Personhood Ohio amendment was initially rejected by Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is staunchly anti-abortion and says the ballot languages needed work. Activists are retooling it. Personhood USA is working in 30 states, but hasn’t passed an amendment in any of them. 

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