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Ohio 'Heartbeat' Bill Sparks Rift Among Antiabortion-Rights Groups

Ohio 'Heartbeat' Bill Sparks Rift Among Antiabortion-Rights Groups

December 5, 2011 — Antiabortion-rights groups in Ohio are divided over legislation that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, the New York Times reports (Eckholm, New York Times, 12/4). The so-called "heartbeat" bill (HB 125), approved by the Ohio House in June, includes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/28).

Abortion-rights groups argue that banning abortion at the first detectable fetal heartbeat -- which can occur as early as six to eight weeks -- is a patently unconstitutional proposal that is sure to fail a court challenge.

The bill also has drawn opposition from some factions of the antiabortion-rights movement. Ohio Right to Life argues that the heartbeat bill is too radical and would fail a court challenge. The group's refusal to support the bill has caused six chapters to withdraw from the organization over the last two weeks.

At issue is whether the antiabortion-rights movement should abandon its long-held strategy of incrementally chipping away at Roe v. Wade through measures such as restricting abortion later in pregnancy or prohibiting insurance coverage of the procedure.

Linda Theis -- president of Ohio ProLife Action, which supports the heartbeat bill and has absorbed the dissenting chapters of Ohio Right to Life -- said, "Step-by-step measures haven't stopped the killing." John Willke, former president of National Right to Life and a supporter of the heartbeat bill, argued that "after nearly 40 years of abortion on demand, it's time to take a bold step forward."

Supporters of the bill acknowledge that federal courts likely would find it unconstitutional. They hope the U.S. Supreme Court would take up the case, with Justice Anthony Kennedy providing a necessary fifth vote to overturn Roe.

Some antiabortion-rights lawyers say the Supreme Court is unlikely to take the case and that, if it did, it would probably affirm Roe. Paul Linton -- former general counsel to Americans United for Life -- said, "The court has not backed away from viability as the dividing line" (New York Times, 12/4).