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Published: Wednesday, 4/13/2011

Made-up problems

When Republicans ran for office in Ohio last year, they promised to fix the state's ailing economy and put people to work. But now that they control both chambers of the General Assembly, they seem more intent on pandering to single-issue constituencies, especially opponents of abortion rights.

Several anti-abortion bills are before lawmakers. One would require judges to question minors more thoroughly to make sure they understand the impact of an abortion before giving the court's consent. Another seeks to ensure that Ohio does not take part in abortion-related services included in the federal health-care reform law enacted last year.

More disturbing is the "heartbeat bill," which would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected -- about six weeks from conception. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that states can limit abortions only of viable fetuses, generally at 21 to 22 weeks.

The bill, which does not have the backing even of Ohio Right to Life, appears unconstitutional on its face. Yet a state House committee passed it because it pleases groups that want all abortions banned.

Abortion-rights opponents seem to think that if the heartbeat bill becomes law, it would spark a court battle that they hope ultimately would overturn the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs. Wade that established a woman's right to an abortion. Should that be Ohio lawmakers' priority for attention?

Another bill that passed the state Senate last week is more reasonable, though it still falls short. It would require doctors to determine the viability of any fetus at 20 weeks -- and then get a second opinion -- before performing an abortion.

If the fetus is deemed capable of surviving outside the womb, an abortion would not be allowed except when the alternative is the death or severe health impairment of the pregnant woman. The bill specifically excludes the woman's mental health from consideration.

Mike Gonidakis, executive director of Ohio Right to Life, called the bill a "true victory for human rights" that would mean "abortionists will no longer be able to perform these brutal late-term abortions." Heated rhetoric aside, that's assertion is factually questionable.

There is no evidence that late-term abortions for personal convenience rather than medical necessity are performed in Ohio. Only about 2 percent of all abortions performed in Ohio in 2009 were late-term procedures.

Kelli Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, says nearly every procedure was medically necessary. All the Senate bill would do, then, is threaten Ohio women's health.

Abortions overall have declined in Ohio for nine straight years. Since 2000, they are down 40 percent. The Senate bill is a solution in search of a problem.

Another statistic: Ohio's unemployment rate remains above 9 percent. Thousands of unemployed, frustrated Ohioans have stopped looking for jobs.

The state's lead is slipping in research and manufacturing of alternative-energy solutions. The new state development office that's supposed to rejuvenate the economy seems unlikely to create jobs in the near future.

You'd think such real problems would leave state lawmakers no time to waste on bills that address made-up problems.



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