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Political Maneuvering Gets Abortion Bill Through Committee

An Ohio House committee has approved a controversial bill banning abortionat the point when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Some behind the scenes maneuvering was necessary to get the bill passed.  Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

The Ohio Health and Aging Committee passed what is known as the Heartbeat Bill along party lines with Republicans voting for it, Democrats voting against it.  Jaime Miracle with NARAL Pro Choice Ohio has always opposed the bill but she says she is also opposed to the process in this case.

Miracle “The process was a circus from the very beginning.  The committee notice went out at 5:15 at night.  The testimony was due at 8:30 the next morning.  There wasn’t one business hour in between those two times.  They did three hours of testimony.  There are people on both sides of this issue who didn’t get to testify on the bill.  These are not the actions of a committee who thinks the will of the people is behind them and they are doing the right thing.  These are the actions of people who want to sneak an unconstitutional bad for Ohio bill through as quickly as possible with as few people noticing as possible.”

The chairman of the committee, Republican Rep. Lynn Wachtman, is a sponsor of the Heartbeat Bill, but said it wasn’t easy to pass this bill out of committee.

Wachtman “One member was out of state, two others were going to be “no” votes so I asked the speaker to replace three members with affirmative yeses.  To me, protecting life as chairman of this committee has always been my number one priority so this is what it took to get that done today so that’s why it happened. “

Wachtman says he believes the bill has a good chance of passing the House since Speaker Bill Batchelder was willing to swap out committee members to get this bill passed. But Wachtman says he doesn’t have any guarantees on when – or if – the bill will hit the full House floor.  Groups that support the Heartbeat Bill tried to make its passage a political issue.  When asked whether political considerations are the reason the bill is being brought forward now instead of before the election, Wachtman responded this way.

Wachtman “Well I’ve always wanted this to come up earlier rather than later. For various, frankly, political reasons, it didn’t come up until after election.  And now it is time to get it done.  I sensed some nervousness among some people about bringing this up. I was not asked to hold it by anybody but after 30 years, I’ve learned to read people and try to be as courteous as you can be in the legislative process to people…you know, kind of what you are sensing.

A strong supporter of this bill, Janet Folger Porter of the group Faith 2 Action, is happy that it has passed the committee.  And she’s looking ahead to the fight to get it through the Ohio House and Senate.  In the last General Assembly, the bill died in the Senate but Folger Porter is more optimistic this time around.

Folger Porter – “Suffice it to say that we are going to do everything we can and we are not going to stop until they actually protect babies with beating hearts.  All of the talk about how we regulate abortion – we regulate how and where we kill children.  It’s time we actually protect them.  It’s been 41 years.  It is time we actually do something that will protect some babies and this bill will go a long way toward that end.”

Committee testimony on this bill was cut off after about three hours.  Many people on both sides of the issue who wanted to testify didn’t get the chance.  Ohio Right to Life has not supported this bill, saying it is likely unconstitutional – and that was one of the reasons former Senate President Tom Niehaus gave for not bringing it to the floor in that chamber.  Backers of the bill admit it will be challenged if it becomes law and hope it will be the vehicle to overturn the landmark Roe vs Wade decision. Similar bills in two other states have passed but they have been struck down by federal courts.

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