As final passage looms, Heartbeat Bill gets new branding, same opposition

Ohio Statehouse Newsroom

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — What is in a name? A whole lot, if you ask some people. 

Here in Ohio, changing the name of a bill that has gone around and around the Statehouse with great success, more times than almost any other bill in recent memory, only to fail to launch at the last moment twice now; could be just what it needs. 

That can’t really be the reason though, because Governor DeWine has already pledged to sign the Heartbeat Abortion Bill, something his predecessor refused to do, twice, and which was the impediment for the legislation becoming law. 

No, there are other reasons for changing the bill’s short title from “Prohibit abortion if detectable heartbeat” to the Human Rights and Heartbeat Protection Act. No one really pontificated on what those reasons were Tuesday when the amendment to make the change was proposed. 

According to the House Health Committee Chairman State Representative Derek Merrin the changes made by the majority party’s omnibus amendment bill were “slight.” 

Beyond the title change, they increased the amount the State Medical Board could fine medical professionals who break the law from $10,000 to $20,000. 

According to the bill’s original author and longtime ardent proponent Janet Porter, perhaps inflation was the reason; that and you can do a lot more with $20,000 than you can do with 10, she says. 

Another change was to a single word in the bill. The word “compelling” was switched to “valid.”  

“It really wasn’t a big change, it was a technical change, much to do about nothing,” said Porter. 

When pressed, however, Porter admitted it was done in order to avoid unwanted legal interpretations 

“A judge who is against the bill could use it as an excuse to strike it down,” said Porter. 

Democrats tried to put the word back in but their amendment failed. 

In total, Democrats tried to add 10 different amendments to the bill. 

One called for an exception for fatal fetal abnormalities like the lack of necessary organs such as the brain; the amendment was denied by Republicans. 

Another called for the removal of criminal penalties for doctors who break the law; that too was denied along party lines. 

Still another mandated the State provide child care and public transportation vouchers for new mothers; this was the only amendment set forth by the Democrats to get a single Republican vote. Representative Niraj Antani was the only Republican to vote with the Democrats on this amendment. 

The underlying reasoning for the amendment is, if the State is going to force women to carry their babies to term then the least the State can do is help them with the cost of raising a child they may not have kept due to significant financial hardships they are destined to face as a result of their pregnancy. 

And it was not the only amendment to take this approach. It was, however the only one Antani supported and none of them made it into the bill. They include, creating a fund for new mothers to draw from based on how much money the State has to spend in the inevitable legal battles to come over the constitutionality of the bill; mental and physical health assistance for new mothers who are negatively impacted in either of those areas as a result of being forced to keep the pregnancy; and for a repealing of the law that blocks funding for Planned Parenthood since the bill would outlaw almost every abortion in the State and new mothers forced to carry the pregnancy through would be in dire need of the other vital health services the organization provides. 

Other amendments included requiring sex education in schools based on scientific evidence which would include discussion on the use of contraceptives as one way to prevent unwanted pregnancies. 

Another would provide free tuition for prenatal and perinatal education tracts, with a requirement the medical professional stay and practice in Ohio afterward for a set number of years, as a way to entice doctors into practicing in a post-Heartbeat Bill state. 

The final two amendments offered by the Democrats, and subsequently denied by the Republicans, dealt with exemptions and exceptions. 

One of them was an exemption for religious beliefs. The argument was made that some religions do not share the same belief that life begins when a heartbeat can be detected. By denying a person from practicing what their religion teaches them, they argue the bill infringes on a person’s religious freedom. 

The final exception was for African American women.  

State Representative Janine Boyd offered the amendment and took the opportunity to talk about slavery; to remind lawmakers that some African American women were raped, forced to bear the children of their masters. She talked about how some slaves were forced to procreate so that their offspring could likewise be enslaved. 

She ended her explanation of the need for the amendment by saying our history is not far enough behind us to legislate as if it is; insinuating that the government taking away a woman’s right to choose and forcing her to carry out a pregnancy is similar to the level of absolute control a slave owner would exercise over his property. 

Again, none of the Democrat proposed amendments made it into the bill. 

For many of them, Chairman Merrin objected to them because they came to his office after business hours the day before.  

The ranking Democrat on the committee pointed out that the amendments Merrin put forward also came to her office after business hours the day before. 

Another issue of concern for opponents of the bill was a rejection of the ability to testify on the bill during this last hearing, which was subsequently resolved. 

Originally, chairman Merrin denied the opportunity for Gaby Garcia-Vera to testify in front of the committee when he signed up to do so on Monday, the day before. 

That decision was reversed however and Garcia-Vera, along with two other individuals were allowed to testify Tuesday in front of committee. 

This came after the organization Garcia-Vera was speaking on behalf of, coordinated with other Pro-Choice organizations to raise awareness about the denial. 

Those efforts caused media outlets to reach out to House leadership seeking justification and explanation.  

Having listened to the three final speakers give their testimony lawmakers voted whether to pass the bill out of committee and send it back to the full chamber for a vote there. 

The testimony given Tuesday swayed none of Republicans on the committee. All 11 of them voted to move the bill forward with a favorable recommendation.  

But that isn’t the point. They were allowed to speak, and their voices were heard. 

Altogether, the committee heard more than 12 hours of testimony on this bill. Some lawmakers have heard many, many more hours having served in previous General Assemblies on the Health Committee.  

In the end, it is expected that, like last General Assembly and the one before that, this bill will pass through the legislature.  

Some lawmakers have grown weary of the fight and want nothing more than to be done with this debate. 

Others like freshman State Representative Allison Russo from Columbus spoke passionately against the bill, calling into question the motives behind it and the time spent on it when there are other pressing health matters to be dealt with. 

“This law has no compassion, it has no flexibility, it is not based in evidence or reason, and it is cruel,” said Russo. “We know this is going to land in the courts. In fact, we’ve had proponents of this bill who are sitting in the back of this room, stand up here; they go all across the country and give testimony; they want this to go before the courts. That is the only reason we are debating this. This has absolutely nothing to do with what is good for the State of Ohio and our health.” 

After the vote, the bill’s original author Janet Porter proudly touted her success in getting other states onboard. 

“Ohio had the chance to be the first ones to pass it. Sadly, they took a pass and so I’m not going to just sit around and waiting for them to act. We took this bill elsewhere and when this ink is dry on the Ohio Heartbeat Bill, we will be the seventh state to make it into law,” said Porter. 

As likely as it is the legislation will pass through both the House and Senate, there is still a chance for unexpected delays for Porter and supporters of the bill. All of the legislative processes will continue until the Governor signs the bill. 

Until that time, and for the foreseeable future, opponents of the bill say they will continue to organize stand against the measure. 

“It’s never too late, and as long as the health and safety of Ohioans is at stake, we are going to continue to fight until our very last breath,” said Garcia-Vera. 

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