Ohio Senate President Halts Further Hearings on 'Heartbeat' Legislation

December 15, 2011 — Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus (R) on Wednesday suspended any further hearings on a so-called "heartbeat" bill (HB 125), saying that amendments submitted by supporters have created confusion about the legislation, the AP/Washington Post reports.

Noting that more than 20 amendments have been proposed, Niehaus said in a statement, "These eleventh hour revisions only serve to create more uncertainty about a very contentious issue." He added, "We've now heard hours of testimony that indicate a sharp disagreement within the pro-life community over the direction of this bill, and I believe our members need additional time to weigh the arguments" (AP/Washington Post, 12/14).

The bill, approved by the Ohio House in June, would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which can occur as early as six weeks. The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R), includes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/7).

According to the AP/Post, Niehaus did not specify how much time would be needed to consider the amendments (AP/Washington Post, 12/14).

Opponents Speak Out at Hearing

During a Senate committee hearing Tuesday physicians, clergy members and abortion-rights advocates said the measure is unconstitutional, would impede on religious freedom and would put women's lives at risk, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

Several physicians told emotional stories during the hearing about women who sought abortion care to protect their lives or because of serious fetal complications. Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said the bill "is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, an effort to put Ohio at the center of one of the nation's most contentious and costly legal battles. Supporters want to push their extreme agenda all the way to the Supreme Court at taxpayers' expense." James Bopp, general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee, called the legislation "a futile exercise" and a distraction (Candisky/Siegel, Columbus Dispatch, 12/14).

Gary Doughtery, state legislative director for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio, said legislators should reject the bill and focus on a Senate bill that aims to prevent unintended pregnancies. "Ohio senators should take notice: Women are watching this waste of time and money that is making a bad situation worse for Ohio women and families," Doughtery said (Carr Smyth, AP/Google News, 12/13).