Paul Kostyu reports:
Cooperation between competing right to life groups has revived controversial legislation to restrict abortions that now looks like it will be considered in the legislative lame duck session, which begins next week.
Mired in the Ohio Senate since June 2011, HB 125 is getting another look, Senate President Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, told The Enquirer Thursday. He said a substitute bill is being prepared.
Called the heartbeat bill because it would prevent an abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected – sometimes as early as six weeks, before women may know they’re pregnant – HB 125 split the Ohio anti-abortion movement because of differing philosophies about the measure.
Ohio Right to Life, which approved of the concept of the bill, withheld support because the organization said it could not withstand a court challenge under Roe v. Wade. It believed that a failure at the U.S. Supreme Court could have the opposite effect, leading to more abortion restrictions. The landmark Court ruling sought to strike a balance between states’ rights to limit abortion and a woman’s right to privacy.
On the other hand, Faith2Action, a group formed by local chapters of Ohio Right to Life, including those in Cincinnati, Clermont and Warren counties, and other organizations pushed for passage of the bill by the Ohio House in 2011. It said the time was right to pass a tougher abortion measure, even though similar efforts in other states failed.
“I think we’re close,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life.
He would not comment about details of a compromise or what issues are still keeping the groups apart.
“We’re going to keep the process close to the vest,” he said. “We don’t want this to play out in the press. We’re still working on it, trading messages about the language. It’s not final yet.”
Attempts to reach Janet Porter, leader of Faith2Action and the leading proponent of HB 125, were not successful.
Lori Viars, of Lebanon, who helped craft the bill, would not comment and instead directed questions to Porter.
Porter’s group took aim at Niehaus and other legislators, including Sen. Shannon Jones,R-Springboro, trying to pressure them into moving the bill. They and other legislators were inundated with telephone calls, emails and post cards from supporters of the bill. TV ads, billboards and even an airplane circling the statehouse dragging a sign targeted legislators.
Niehaus, who is term-limited, and Jones, who was not up for election this year, withstood the pressure. Niehaus said he wanted cooperation from the two groups on compromise language before he moved the bill in the Senate.
He would not say Thursday what that language is, but he said progress was made and he will take a look at new language next week. He also is consulting with state Rep. Lynn R. Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, the sponsor of the legislation. Wachtmann could not be reached for comment.
Niehaus said he set conditions for reconsidering the bill. He would not say what those conditions are or whether the bill’s proponents had met them. That’s what he’s going to consider next week, he said.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of Naral Pro-Choice Ohio, said her organization expected movement on the bill in the lame duck session and heard rumors about a compromise for some time, but can’t figure out “what a compromise could be.”
“Voters in Ohio and across the country clearly rejected this anti-choice agenda, the ability of women to make their own private medical decisions. That they would attempt these kind of major attacks less than a week after the election just shows that they don’t care what voters have to say,” she said. “It’s their extremist agenda and voter sentiments be damned.”
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