Senators don't plan to vote on the so-called "heartbeat bill" before the end of the legislative session next month, Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus said, citing concerns the resulting law might have been found to be unconstitutional.
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COLUMBUS — Proposed bills to cut, if not eliminate, family-planning funding for Planned Parenthood and all but outlaw abortions in Ohio ran into a brick wall in the state Senate on Tuesday.
Senate President Tom Niehaus (R., New Richmond), said he will not bring either measure to the chamber’s floor during the lame-duck session. That would mean the bills would die with the close of the two-year session in mid-December and would have to start the legislative process over next year.
“I think you have to look at the entirety of the work that’s done by Planned Parenthood, and I believe they offer much-needed services that are not available other places,” Mr. Niehaus said. “I chose not to take the bill up in lame-duck.”
Two weeks ago, a Republican-controlled House committee voted along party lines to send House Bill 298 to the full House. House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) said Tuesday the GOP caucus had yet to decide whether to bring the bill to a vote, and he questioned whether to go forward with a House vote if the Senate would not take it up.
The bill would have placed Planned Parenthood’s 32 Ohio clinics last in line for funds behind government entities, federally qualified health centers, Community Action Agencies, hospitals, and private practices that offer comprehensive primary and preventative health care in addition to family planning services.
It was estimated that Planned Parenthood could have lost up to $1.7 million in state-administered federal aid as a result.
Mr. Niehaus also killed the hopes of some abortion-rights opponents that the so-called Heartbeat Bill, House Bill 125, passed by the House nearly a year ago, could be brought to a Senate vote this session.
“If you look at past experience, this is the most pro-life Senate that we’ve had in the General Assembly,” Mr. Niehaus said. But he questioned the slow speed at which proponents of the bill have offered compromises, the latest of which was delivered to Mr. Niehaus’ office Tuesday morning.
“I still have constitutional concerns,” he said.
The bill would require a doctor to test for a fetal heartbeat and would prohibit an abortion if one is detected. A heartbeat could be detectable as early as six weeks after conception.
Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon) is sponsor of the Heartbeat Bill and chairman of the committee that put the Planned Parenthood bill in position for a potential House vote. He said the backers of the Planned Parenthood bill knew this could be that bill’s fate in the Senate, but he stressed he hasn’t given up on a Senate vote on the Heartbeat Bill.
He said he’s counting on the Senate Republican caucus to change its leader’s mind.
“We have strong support over there,” he said. “We fulfilled his two different requests — other than Romney winning Ohio, which I don’t think I can be held solely responsible for. I’m assuming that his caucus can still bring him around on this.”
The bill’s supporters contend that presence of a heartbeat is the best indicator that a fetus is likely to be carried to full term. They welcomed the inevitable court challenge, hoping it would give the U.S. Supreme Court an excuse to reverse its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that extended a woman’s right to privacy to decisions pertaining to abortion.
Opponents argued that the bill would effectively outlaw abortions in most cases in Ohio, particularly if a woman doesn’t realize she’s pregnant until after the heartbeat is detectable. Even Ohio Right to Life had opposed the bill, worrying aloud that the high court could vote to affirm Roe and potentially set back abortion-rights foes in Ohio.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, applauded Mr. Niehaus’ decisions but remained wary about the future.
“Make no mistake about it, the threat to women’s health may be delayed, but it remains,” she said. “We fully expect anti-choice forces to reintroduce these dangerous attacks on women’s health when the legislature reconvenes in January.”