Backers of Ohio ‘heartbeat’ bill ready for Round 2

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Backers of an Ohio bill to effectively ban abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat are declaring Round 2 in what is probably an uphill fight.

Several state lawmakers said Thursday they are reintroducing the so-called “heartbeat bill,” which could prohibit abortions from being performed as early as six weeks into pregnancy. It failed to clear the Legislature last year after an intense lobbying effort.

This time around? “We’re not willing to take no for an answer,” said Republican Rep. Christina Hagan, of Alliance.

But Hagan acknowledged the proposal could get pushback in the Republican-dominated Senate, where the bill met its demise last year. The then-GOP leader blocked it from a vote before the session ended. The Republican-controlled House had passed the bill in June 2011.

Asked by reporters what she has heard from senators, she said, “There’s a little bit of hesitation.”

Supporters hope the stringent nature of the heartbeat bill will provoke a legal challenge with the potential to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

Similar measures in two other states are tied up in courts.

Last month, a federal judge temporarily blocked North Dakota’s law from taking effect, calling it “clearly invalid and unconstitutional.” And in Arkansas, a federal judge has temporarily blocked the state’s law that bans most abortions 12 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy from taking effect this month while a legal challenge is pending. The law is tied to the date when a fetal heartbeat can typically be detected by an abdominal ultrasound.

Ohio supporters of the bill say different federal court judges have different opinions. “None of those judges are the law of the land,” said Republican Rep. Matt Huffman of Lima.

A spokesman for the Senate Majority Caucus declined to comment on the heartbeat bill, noting the measure could change if or when it gets to the chamber.

“Our caucus has done a lot to advance the cause of life, and our members are satisfied with the work that we’ve done so far,” spokesman John McClelland added.

Ohio lawmakers added abortion restrictions into the state budget that passed in late June. Among them was a requirement for doctors to check for a detectable fetal heartbeat and share the information with the pregnant woman before she consents to an abortion.

The heartbeat bill had fiercely divided Ohio’s anti-abortion community, with some fearing a court challenge could undo other abortion restrictions already in place. It also energized anti-abortion rights groups who rallied against it.

Hagan said 40 of the 99 Ohio House members have signed on as co-sponsors. She said the bill now includes a joint legislative panel to promote adoption options in the state. Another provision also would require abortion clinics to be inspected to ensure fetal heartbeat restrictions were upheld.

Last session’s push had been one of noisiest lobbying efforts in recent state memory.

Ultrasounds were performed at the hearing on two women who were early in their pregnancies, so legislators could see and hear the fetal hearts. Proponents delivered bouquets of red heart-shaped balloons and teddy bears to lawmakers and eventually turned to angry full-page ads in the Columbus newspaper.

Opponents also grew vocal. They rallied at the Statehouse during key votes, arguing the legislation could endanger the lives of women, forcing them to seek the procedure in unhealthy circumstances.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” appeared at Thursday’s news conference to promote the bill.

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