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Clock Is Ticking For "Heartbeat Bill"

The Ohio bill that would ban a woman from having an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected passed the Ohio House almost a year ago, but it hasn’t come up in the Senate. But the clock is ticking on the bill, and supporters and opponents know it. The so-called Heartbeat Bill passed the House last June, and if it doesn’t pass the Senate by the end of the year, it’s dead for this session. The bill is backed by a coalition of pro-life activists, but Ohio Right to Life is on record as opposing it on constitutional grounds. Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus has taken heat from Heartbeat Bill supporters for not moving the measure in his chamber. But Niehaus says he wants a compromise. "My position has been consistent for the last year that we ask both sides to sit down and talk. I don’t think that has happened at this point, so my position is the same." Supporters say they’ve now come up with a deal. Republican Lynn Wachtmann of Napoleon in northwest Ohio sponsored the bill in the House. "The new language that the folks worked on the last few days does, I think, a better job of separating the informed consent from the rest of the bill, which would protect the entirety of the bill hopefully from a bad court decision," Watchmann says. Janet Folger Porter is a former official with Ohio Right to Life and leads the national anti-abortion group Faith 2 Action. She’s led a campaign against Ohio Right to Life for its opposition to the Heartbeat Bill, but she says she feels the organization should be on board with this legislation. "They want informed consent. And this bill gives them exactly what they want, severed from the other part in a separate code, separate section of the code. "And it gives them what they said they publicly want. Now if they don’t support this bill, then I certainly can’t explain that, because it is giving them exactly what they say they want." But for Ohio Right to Life, this bill brings no real change from the Heartbeat Bill the group officially opposes. President Mike Gonidakis, who’s also a lawyer, says the language on severability is unneeded under Ohio law. Gonidakis says he hasn’t seen a new version of the bill, and that there’s been no meeting to discuss it, but his organization still has big problems with the measure. "As the bill is currently drafted, the substitute version, there’s numerous concerns, whether it be an informed consent, powers given to state officials or obviously the ban portion. So, a lot of issues that need to be addressed," Gonidakis says. Rep. Wachtmann says he’s met with President Niehaus on this issue – and Niehaus’ office confirms he and Wachtmann have talked about the Heartbeat Bill several times, but that Niehaus is still asking both sides to work out their differences. Wachtmann says he’s still optimistic the Heartbeat Bill will be passed by year’s end. In the meantime, its backers, led by Janet Folger Porter, continue to hold rallies at the Statehouse and take out full page ads calling out individual Republican Senators who are anti-abortion as "RINOs" – "Republicans In Name Only" – actions that have irritated even some who support their cause. "We’re not going to go away till the vote is cast and babies are protected," Folger Porter says. "I care more about protecting babies than making friends in the Senate." And the bill’s strongest opponents – those who support abortion rights – are also still watching it. Kellie Copeland is with NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. "Regardless of the negotiations, let’s be clear – they’re negotiating how to best outlaw abortion in the state of Ohio. So we will continue to monitor this and activate our supporters across the stateagainst this until this bill is dead in December." Not only would the Heartbeat Bill have to start all over in the next session if it doesn’t pass this one, the entire Ohio House and half the Ohio Senate is on the ballot this fall. And that puts pressure on both supporters and opponents of the Heartbeat Bill, since there could be changes in the makeup of the General Assembly next year.