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Heartbeat Bill Supporters Rally At The Statehouse

Jack Willke,  former director of the national Right to Life organization, speaks at the Heartbeat Bill event.
Jack Willke, former director of the national Right to Life organization, speaks at the Heartbeat Bill event.

A couple hundred people packed the Atrium in the Statehouse to sing, pray and chant in support of the Heartbeat Bill, which would ban abortion after the first detectable fetal heartbeat. For some women, by the time they learn they’re pregnant they’d be unable to seek an abortion. The bill has been divisive in the pro-life community – Ohio Right to Life’s board of directors has voted not to back it because of constitutional questions.

Former national Right to Life director Jack Willke said there’s no reason for concern,“If this bill passes, it will go to the Supreme Court. It will be rendered constitutional."

Nearly half the House co-sponsored the bill in February, but it still took months before it passed in June. The bill has yet to be assigned to a Senate committee, and while Republicans dominate the Senate two to one, passage isn’t guaranteed.

Republican Lynn Wachtmann of Napoleon in northwest Ohio chaired the House committee where the bill started. Wachtmann says, “While the Ohio Right to Life is problematic, the Ohioans who are pro-life love this piece of legislation.”

And pro-life and pro-choice activists agree that if the bill is signed into law, it will be challenged immediately in court. Willke told the crowd that’s nothing to fear, since the taxpayers and not pro-life groups will bear the cost of that litigation. And the question of cost to government is an issue. A Guttmacher Institute study shows 69% of women who have abortions are economically disadvantaged, and 61% already have at least one child.

Gary Dougherty is with Planned Parenthood of Ohio. Doughtery says, “The poorest women are more likely to experience unintended pregnancies, generally due to a lack of access to quality health care and family planning services. As a result, they typically have high and increasing rates of both abortion and unplanned birth.”

Jamie Miracle is with NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. Miracle says, “It’s a perfect example of not understanding the economic realities of our state when we’re slashing funding for children’s health services and we’re slashing all kinds of programs that help people most in need at this time, and passing bills that could make the state pay millions of dollars to defend this blatantly unconstitutional piece of legislation.”

But Janet Folger Porter of the group Faith 2 Action, which brought the Heartbeat Bill to Ohio, says an economic the group recruited the testify for it told lawmakers that pro-life also means pro-jobs.

Porter says, “Whatever angle you look at this with, it’s a win-win. It’ll protect babies. It’ll protect women. It’ll help the state – as you know, there’s an exodus from many cities in our state, and that is only something that hurts us. What this bill will do is save 26,000 lives every year. That’s a school bus full of children every single day.”

Representative Wachtmann, who has bristled over questions about the urgency to pass abortion bills after many lawmakers campaigned on economic issues last year, responds this way.

Wachtmann says, “Life is the most pertinent issue. Without life, you don’t have to worry about how poor or rich you are, what kind of house you have. Certainly our society has extraordinary challenges on the economic side, but it’s paramount that we protect the lives of unborn children.”

Pro-choice activists say lawmakers should also consider legislation that would expand access to contraceptives. But Heartbeat Bill supporters say they’re focused on this legislation, which they say deals with a post-contraception issue.