December 11, 2014 — The Ohio House on Wednesday rejected a bill (HB 248) that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, marking the latest setback for legislation that has divided the state's abortion-rights opponents, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports (Borchardt, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/10).
The bill would have banned abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy. The measure would not have applied when a woman's life is in danger, but it did not include exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Under the bill, performing an abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detectable would have been considered a fifth-degree felony.
Ohio lawmakers have made unsuccessful attempts to pass similar bills in recent years. HB 248 was introduced more than one year ago but did not have a hearing until last month. It went on to pass out of committee on a party-line vote, with Republicans in favor (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/21).
GOP Leaders Oppose Bill
The bill has divided Ohio conservatives as the state's legislative session draws to a close. Even if it had passed the state House, it was expected to fail in the Republican-led Senate, which also rejected a similar bill two years ago. Gov. John Kasich (R) also opposes the bill.
State Rep. Matt Lynch (R), one of the bill's main supporters, acknowledged that the House vote would "only be a show vote" (Candisky/Siegel, Columbus Dispatch, 12/11). On Tuesday, Lynch had attempted to amend a bill dealing with infant mortality (SB 276) to incorporate language from HB 248, known as the heartbeat bill. However, state House GOP leaders blocked the move by delaying a formal vote on the infant mortality bill.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, many Republicans believe the bill would not have withstood a legal challenge and could have placed other abortion restrictions in jeopardy. State Senate President Keith Faber (R) said, "We believe the Heartbeat Bill could lead to striking down laws that have been passed and upheld," adding, "We believe the Heartbeat Bill moves the cause of anti-abortion back, not forward" (Thompson, Cincinnati Enquirer, 12/10).
Wednesday's state House vote was 47-40, three votes short of the simple majority of 50 votes needed to pass the chamber (Toledo Blade, 12/11). The "no" votes included 11 Republicans, and another 11 lawmakers did not vote. There is one vacant seat in the chamber.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said in a statement, "Although we are elated that this dangerous bill has failed to be enacted again, the games that anti-choice politicians have been playing have had a chilling effect on Ohio women and their physicians" (Columbus Dispatch, 12/11). Copeland added that abortion-rights opponents are planning additional proposals for when the state Legislature reconvenes in January (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/10).
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio President and CEO Stephanie Kight said in a statement responding to the vote that the bill was "bad policy and bad medicine and is too extreme and dangerous to become part of Ohio law. This is a great day for women in Ohio" (Columbus Dispatch, 12/11).
Antiabortion-Rights Group Delays Bill Meant To Protect Elderly From Abuse
In related news, a bill (HB 624) intended to protect Ohio residents from being neglected and abused by court-appointed guardians is likely dead for the year because of opposition from an antiabortion-rights group, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
The bill, which would codify a "bill of rights" for Ohio residents who have been appointed guardians, was aimed at protecting elderly Ohioans. However, state House leaders referred the measure back to committee shortly before a vote last week after receiving a letter from the antiabortion-rights group ProLife Action expressing its opposition to the bill.
ProLife Action spokesperson Barry Sheets said the group opposes the bill because it mentions residents' rights to "'privacy of the body,' to 'procreate' and to services 'suited to [their] needs and conditions.'" Sheets said the group is concerned such language would allow an underage ward who becomes pregnant to have an abortion without a guardian's permission.
According to the Dispatch, the bill likely will not be passed this year because the state Senate is expected to end its 2014 legislative session on Thursday. Bill sponsor state Rep. Dorothy Pelanda (R) said she would introduce similar legislation in 2015, if needed (Jarman, Columbus Dispatch, 12/10).