Worse Than "Personhood," Ohio "Heartbeat" Bill Could Be a Total Abortion Ban
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For years, anti-choice forces have sought to find new ways to curb abortion rights by turning the focus of the issue from the woman to the fetus she’s carrying. Most recently they've done this with the spate of personhood amendments which would have given legalized rights to a zygote. These initiatives have been successfully fought back by pro-choice forces (after all, if a fertilized egg is a person, women could be committing murders every single time they menstruate, and IVF would also be illegal).
The same twisted logic lies behind the Heartbeat Bill, a new piece of potential legislation. Everyone has seen the misleading billboards scattered across the Midwest claiming “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart” thanks to anti-abortion groups like Pro-Life America. But what if that “beating heart” was the new standard put in place to define life and outlaw the procedure?
Anti-abortion crusader and right-winger Janet Porter claims such a bill will be introduced in the state of Ohio during the 2011 session. As she said in a post on World Net Daily on January 18th:
Science has already provided a yardstick that is more definitive than viability – and far more protective of children – the heartbeat. It is an educational dream. But unlike the partial-birth abortion ban, it doesn't just educate. It is designed to educate and protect the majority of babies.
… If 95 percent of the babies are all the lives we could save, as Dr. Jack Willke said this bill would do, I'll happily take that over 40 more years of cautious crumbs that save virtually no one.
Porter, a former Christian radio host and proclaimed “Preacher and Prayer Warrior,” claims she already has a bill sponsor in Lynn Wachtmann, a Republican Representative so conservative that he’s referred to in the House as “Captain Caveman” (Watchmann, it should be noted, so far shows no other statements saying he will be backing such a bill). Anti-choice legislators have already thrown their support behind a different abortion limitation bill, a proposal to ban all abortions after 24 weeks, or 22 weeks if a “test” shows the fetus is viable. And, in addition, there are rumors of a 20 week abortion ban also being proposed, possibly one that replicates the so-called “fetal pain” ban in Nebraska that is beginning to pop up in other states across the nation.
Any one of the three bills would be a devastating blow to reproductive health access for women in Ohio. But of the three, it is the “Heartbeat” bill that truly has the potential to change the landscape of anti-choice legislation if it passes. The bill manages to almost completely outlaw abortion in a way we have only seen before in “Personhood” amendments--such as the one that was solidly rejected twice by the voters in Colorado.
By establishing heartbeat as the criteria for banning abortion, the bill effectively rejects abortion from any point after roughly four weeks post conception, a time in which fetal heartbeat can be seen via high quality ultrasound machine. For most women, that would provide a window of two weeks or less in order to learn she was pregnant, make her decision about the pregnancy, arrange for an appointment, gather money for an abortion, obtain the mandatory counseling and sit through the required 24 hour waiting period. For a woman with irregular menstrual cycles, by the time she realizes she is pregnant it likely would already be too late to do anything but continue the pregnancy.
Like the fetal “Personhood” push, the “Heartbeat” bill would eliminate virtually all abortion. But unlike “Personhood” it avoids all of the major controversies that impeded the fertilized egg movement. It would have no effect on IVF, since embryos would have no protected status. It wouldn’t inherently ban contraceptive drugs or intrauterine birth control devices, as those who campaigned against “Personhood” pointed out. It would take away many of the major arguments that pro-choice activists were able to use to fight the “Personhood” movement without basing their argument solely on the right to an abortion. With “Personhood,” pro-choicers were able to hang all women’s autonomy together. With “Heartbeat” anti-chociers are trying to isolate women who want to terminate pregancies, targeting them in isolation.
Can such a bill pass in the state, and would it hold up in court? Although Ohio has had strong anti-choice legislature for years, Democratic Governor Ted Strickland had been able to maintain some balance via veto power. Now, with a Republican in the governor’s mansion, that final check to the anti-abortion activists is gone.
Porter claims that the “Heartbeat” bill will be introduced the week of Valentine’s Day. Should that happen, pro-choice advocates in the state are already preparing to use whatever leverage they have to try and defeat it, both for the sake of women in Ohio, and women throughout the country. It’s clear that if the “Heartbeat” bill gets passed, copy-cat legislation will pop up in other states next, just as mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods and “fetal pain” bans are springing up throughout the U.S. Sitting back and hoping that new, restrictive abortion bans won’t spread if we just ignore them is no longer an option.
“This isn't politics,” said Kellie Copeland, of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. “This is serious. This is women's health. This is the real deal. If you've been waiting on the sidelines, it's time to get off. “