Bill sparks Ohio abortions debate

MARIETTA – Legislation that would have essentially made it illegal to perform an abortion if a fetal heartbeat could be detected in the womb of an expectant mother died in the Ohio Senate last fall, but it’s possible another measure could be introduced this year.

The Heartbeat Bill, Ohio House Bill 125, was introduced by Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, with 50 co-sponsors last year.

The proposed legislation required physicians to check for a fetal heartbeat and inform the mother if a heartbeat is found. If there is a heartbeat the woman could not have an elective abortion. Fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

A similar bill was signed into law by North Dakota’s governor just last week, and Arkansas legislators inked another Heartbeat Bill in early March.

The North Dakota bill also included measures banning abortions due to genetic defects and requiring abortion doctors to have hospital-admitting privileges.

In Ohio, Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, was one of the co-sponsors of House Bill 125 last year.

“But I’ve been talking with Lynn Wachtmann’s staff, and haven’t heard that any bill is being introduced yet,” Thompson said this week.

“It may be they’ve discussed it with the governor and they just don’t see it moving forward at this time,” he said. “But all we can do right now is wait and see if the opportunity for another bill presents itself.”

Thompson said he believes a bill similar to the one proposed last year would have no problem clearing the House of Representatives again this year, although it would likely have to be reworked with some modifications in the Senate.

Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, said she, too, had not heard whether the bill would be introduced again this year.

“I voted against the (2012) bill. It was very controversial,” she said. “It seemed like it posed some very deep questions about constitutionality under (Roe v. Wade). And the Right to Life community was deeply divided because of concerns that it could end up in the Supreme Court and the outcome there would be impossible to tell.”

Phillips said she would like to see the legislature focus more on what can be done to prevent unintentional pregnancies.

But she noted that could also become a divisive issue in light of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s recent signing of a letter objecting to a mandate in President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act that employers provide insurance coverage for contraception and other reproductive services.

Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, also voted against last year’s Heartbeat Bill as he was serving out his term in the House of Representatives.

“It was obvious there were constitutional issues-and I’m sworn to uphold the state and U.S. constitutions,” he said. “The (Supreme) court has ruled this decision is between a woman, her family and her doctor.”

Gentile said the measure introduced last year died in the Senate because there was division among some of the proponents based on the constitutionality issue, and the bill stalled as they were asked to sit down and try to work those issues out.

“If passed the bill would have been challenged in court, and it would be hard to justify voting for something that wouldn’t pass constitutional muster,” he added. “But overall it is a very sensitive, emotional issue for people, and I truly respect those who are passionate about this.”

Gentile said he could not speak for Senate leadership, but noted current Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, has indicated support for a Heartbeat Bill in the past.

“But I also know he respects the members of his own caucus, and will likely rely on their guidance,” he said.

Carson Spence, 47, of Summerfield in Noble County, said he would favor a Heartbeat Bill.

“Abortion is murder, period,” he said. “Our laws are founded on the Bible, but we’ve been brainwashed to the point that people are afraid to say abortion is wrong. And our younger generation has already been brainwashed into this belief.”

But Kathy West, 62, of Lowell, disagrees.

“I don’t think the government should be involved in this issue at all,” she said. “Women should be left in charge of their own bodies.”

Little Hocking resident Rod Rauch, 55, said he’d like to know more about the Heartbeat Bill if another is introduced in the General Assembly this year.

“I’m pro-life, and would probably be in favor, but I would want to know all of the details first,” he said. “With some modifications I could possibly accept a bill.”

According to the Associated Press, a week after North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed that state’s bill, abortion rights activists were already planning to bring the measure to a statewide ballot referendum.