One of the ugliest fights this campaign season could be between two groups within the conservative camp, battling over a bill that would ban abortions within weeks of conception.
Last week, GOP Senate President Tom Niehaus formally drew his line in the sand, making it clear that his chamber is firmly pro-life but is not going to budge on the heartbeat issue.
“Ohio Senate Republicans have done more in the past 16 months to advance the protection of unborn children than any previous general assembly in our state’s history,” he wrote in a letter to the pro-life community.
But proponents of the Heartbeat Bill, so named because it would prohibit abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, said they’re going to target lawmakers who are blocking the legislation with ads informing like-minded voters of their choice.
Those ads, which have already appeared in print, are topped with the bold headline, “After 54 million dead babies, don’t ask us to wait any longer!”
Republicans in the Ohio Senate aren’t opposed to everything in the Heartbeat Bill. They apparently back a provision in the bill requiring informed consent, with women seeking abortions required to sign a form acknowledging they have heard the fetal heartbeat 24 hours in advance of the procedure.
But they’re not on board with the most-discussed portion of the bill, which would ban abortions in cases where a heartbeat has been detected.
In his letter last week, Niehaus wrote that the latter would likely be found unconstitutional, with the resulting court filings tying the issue up in legal challenges for years.
“Let me be clear,” Niehaus wrote. “No additional unborn babies would be saved while this case is held up in court, so the promise of ending nearly every abortion is uncertain at best and capable of creating a damaging legal precedent at worst.”
He added, “Respected pro-life legal experts, who have spent years advancing strategies to overturn [Roe vs. Wade], told us that the risk of a bad ruling on Sub. HB 125 could have a negative and unintended consequence of reaffirming Roe vs. Wade.”
Niehaus also reiterated that his chamber isn’t going to act on the legislation until the two sides of the pro-life community agree on its final form.
“We will take every responsible step to advance the protection of unborn children, but in doing so we must consider the concerns and experienced legal guidance of our respected pro-life allies,” Niehaus wrote. “I remain hopeful that those who disagree on a strategy — but who share a common desire to end abortion — can find consensus on this bill.”
But proponents of the Heartbeat Bill aren’t buying that line.
They want lawmakers to approve the bill as-is, with confidence that it will stand up to legal challenges and be the vehicle to overturn Roe, the controversial Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
In a written response to Niehaus, Janet Porter, head of Faith2Action, one of the main groups pushing for passage, acknowledged the abortion-related legislation lawmakers have already passed this session.
But those law changes, she wrote, only regulate the procedure.
“... Every senator who ran on a pro-life platform promised to vote to end abortions, not merely regulate them,” Porter wrote.
And she warned that pro-life voters will be made aware of the senators who aren’t supporting the effort.
“We will now take this message to the pro-life people of the state who elected these senators based on their campaign promises to end abortion,” Porter wrote. “This phase of the Heartbeat Bill campaign will begin with targeted ads ...”
She added, “The Heartbeat Bill is not about politics or personalities. It is about babies with beating hearts and the Ohio senators we elected to protect them.”
Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Statehouse correspondent. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.