Senate Hearing Brings Praise, Criticism Of “Heartbeat Bill”

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The so-called 'Heartbeat' Abortion bill gets its first hearing at the Ohio Statehouse.(Photo: Harry_nl (Flickr))
The so-called 'Heartbeat' Abortion bill gets its first hearing at the Ohio Statehouse.(Photo: Harry_nl (Flickr))

An Ohio Senate committee has heard testimony on what’s known as the Heartbeat Bill, legislation that could become the nation’s toughest abortion law by outlawing the procedure after the first medically-detectable fetal heartbeat.

Much of the debate centered on why the legislation should be passed now.

After months of intense lobbying by opponents of abortion, an Ohio Senate committee is finally considering the contentious bill. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is promising to sue if it is passed and it’s widely believed that debate would, at some point in the future, end up before the nation’s highest court.

But Dr. Jack Willke says that’s the very reason why it’s important to pass this bill now. Willke, founder of Ohio and national “ight to life” organizations, has been part of the abortion debate for decades. He says the conditions are ripe now for the Supreme Court to take action to outlaw most abortions.

“We are at a position now where this entire Roe –v- Wade thing is being questioned.”

Paula Westwood, the executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Right to Life organization, says if this bill became law, it would nearly wipe out abortions in Ohio.

“Over 28,000 babies die annually from abortion in this state. House Bill 125 will protect over 90 percent of these children at risk for abortion on demand,” Westwood says.

David Forte, a constitutional lawyer, says the state really doesn’t have anything to lose by passing this legislation now and seeing it through to the nation’s highest court.

“Now if a majority of the court, at that time, exalts abortion over human life then we are in no worse position than we are without the heartbeat bill,” Forte says. “But if, on the other hand, the court has a majority that understands the constitution correctly, then this bill is ready to make history.”

But some abortion opponents think the fight over the long, protracted court battle over this bill could actually do more harm than good. Ohio Right to Life has not endorsed….nor does it formally oppose the Heartbeat Bill.

“I cannot predict the future,” says the grou’s Stephanie Crider. “Currently we have a pro abortion Supreme Court by our counts. If the Heartbeat Bill were to pass in its current form and made it in front of the Supreme Court, neither Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas would write the pro life majority opinion because they would be in the minority.”

Jaime Miracle with NARAL Pro Choice Ohio says consideration of this bill is an insult to women who should be able to make decisions about their own bodies. And she says it’s insulting to taxpayers.

“Today’s testimony is another example of our state legislation wasting three-and-a-half hours of taxpayers money on a ridiculous unconstitutional bill that will never stand instead of fixing our economy and putting Ohioans back to work.”

Bill Graber is a construction worker from Fairborn who’s seen his income decline in recent years. He came to the Statehouse to question whether now is the time for the state to spend money on this legal fight.

“This is a gamble,” Graber says. “They are taking the state of Ohio’s credit card and they are going to the Supreme Court’s casino to see if they can deal a final death blow to Roe v Wade and they’re probably not going to do it.”

Graber says lawmakers should be focusing on one thing right now – the economy.

“They’ve got all kinds of diversions to not actually fix the problem. The problem is the busted economy in this state. That’s going to be painful for these guys to sit down and do that. This is a fun issue for them. This gets them contributions. It gets them news headlines but it doesn’t fix the economy.”

But for the sponsor of this bill, Republican Lynn Wachtman, the price tag is not the most important thing to consider.

“I think saving in the future millions of unborn babies from death is something you can’t put a dollar value on. And I always think it’s a sad day in America when we don’t have respect for unborn babies.”

The Heartbeat Bill, if passed into law, is widely considered to be the most restrictive in the nation. Activists on both sides of the issue say they are being told state senators could vote on the bill before the Christmas holiday.

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