June 28, 2016

Mostly cloudy

State ‘Heartbeat’ bill’s backers want to force vote

By Julie Carr Smyth

COLUMBUS — The chief advocate of a blocked Ohio bill that would impose the tightest abortion restriction in the nation vowed Wednesday to use a legislative maneuver to try to force a vote before year’s end despite the Senate president’s opposition.

A host of practical and political obstacles quickly arose that seemed destined to derail the effort.

Janet Folger Porter, president of the conservative action group Faith2Action, said she’ll work to collect 17 Republican signatures on a discharge petition, which can be used to force the so-called “heartbeat bill” out of a committee.

“We’ve got three weeks to find 17 people with the courage to sign and say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to end abortion now,’” Porter said. “That’s what they ran on, that’s what they won on, and now we’re just asking them to make good on their word.”

The bill proposed banning most abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat, as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Its backers hoped such a restriction would spark a legal challenge that could lead to overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

Porter claimed that Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus broke a promise to the bill’s backers Tuesday with his decision not to schedule a vote on the legislation, effectively killing it — barring special circumstances — for the session.

Niehaus says he made the decision to halt the bill in order to keep the Senate’s lame-duck focus on job creation and economic growth.

“He did not break a promise,” said spokeswoman Angela Meleca.

Niehaus is in his final weeks at the Statehouse due to term limits. He cited lingering constitutional concerns in his decision not to move the bill.

Porter and her allies are flouting Niehaus’ short-term status, encouraging proponents of the bill to work around him and focus on the new Senate leadership that will take over in January.

Porter declined to say whether she had the commitment of any senator to sign the discharge petition, nor whether one had been drafted. She called getting the names “very doable.”

Porter said Niehaus aside, 22 senators ran on a “pro-life promise.” She also noted that she personally championed the state’s first successful discharge petition in 1994, forcing a vote that led to the nation’s first ban on late-term abortion procedures. The petition was drafted by Republican William Batchelder, who’s now the House speaker.