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Ohio Senate Puts Abortion Bill On Hold

Backers of the heartbeat bill had finally convinced the Ohio Senate to bring the bill forward for committee hearings this week. For two days, Senators on the health committee heard testimony for and against the bill. At the end of that second hearing, Committee Chairman Scott Oelslager read this one sentence announcement.

Oelschlager- The Senate President has asked me to suspend further hearings until he informs me differently.

The news caught Janet Folger Porter, one of the main backers, by surprise.

Folger-Porter I think there are a lot of people who are surprised right now. What I’m going to do right now is go over to his office to find out what’s going on and hopefully he will be having hearings before the end of the year.

Folger Porter says she thinks there might have been a misunderstanding about proposed changes backers of the bill submitted on the eve of the vote.

Folger Porter – Those amendments were really technical in nature. We are for the heartbeat bill that was passed by the Ohio but we also are for those amendments. That’s been our position. There’s no need for feather ruffling. What is was what some of the Senators had suggested and I think some of those suggestions were good.

Folger Porter is still hoping for a vote in the Senate on the heartbeat bill in the next couple of weeks. She says Senate President Tom Niehaus promised that.

Folger Porter – His word was that there would be a vote by the end of this year. As President of the senate, he is free to call any session he would like and I hope he does so to keep his word.

Niehaus – I don’t remember promising we would vote on it before Christmas. I promised we would have hearings before Christmas. But I find it outrageous that someone who’s been working on a piece of legislation for so long waits unitl the 11th hour to drop 4 pages, 20 plus items that they want changed. Where have they been through this whole process.

And Niehaus reminds reporters that backers of the heartbeat bill were relentless in trying to get the senate to take up the legislation in the first place.

Niehaus – This was after five months of them berating us and criticizing us for not taking up the bill and their argument was that it had been fully vetted in the house and we didn’t need to spend any time with it. Then at the 11th hour, they show up with four pages of changes. But number one, we need to figure out what their changes do. But it underscores the fact that this is a very complicated divisive bill. We need to understand what these changes do.

Niehaus says his caucus remains pro life and he isn’t declaring the heartbeat bill dead yet. But he’s not sending signals that backers will be celebrating its passage on New Year’s eve either.

Niehaus -Nothing is going to happen this calendar year. We’ll look at the changes over the holidays and we will make a determination on how we will proceed.

Meanwhile, abortion rights activists, like Kelly Copeland of NARAL Pro Choice Ohio are breathing a sigh of relief, for now.

Copeland – For us that’s a victory. It gives us time to continue to fight, to continue to bring the stories of doctors, patients and everyday Ohio women, about how important it is to keep abortion safe and legal and not roll back the clock on women’s health.