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Senate OKs tough abortion measure

By JIM PROVANCE • Dec 7, 2016 at 10:00 AM

COLUMBUS (TNS) — In a surprise move, the General Assembly on Tuesday sent Gov. John Kasich a controversial measure that would prohibit nearly all abortions in Ohio.

All eyes now turn to the governor to see if he might approve the stricter, so-called “Heartbeat Bill” over a separate bill that is also expected to be sent to his desk later this week. That bill would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Kasich, who is against abortion rights, has questioned the constitutionality of the “Heartbeat Bill” in the past, but his office declined to comment Tuesday on what he might do.

The Senate inserted the “Heartbeat Bill” into a separate measure dealing with child abuse and neglect reporting requirements for health-care providers.

It would require a doctor to test for a fetal heartbeat and would prohibit an abortion if one is detected. That could occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

In late night debate in the House, state Rep. Kristina Roegner (R., Hudson) defended merging of the two measures.

“They are both about protecting children, both the born and unborn,” she said. “Today we can take a stand. We can stand up for the most innocent among us, the unborn. Today in Ohio, we put an end to the practice of killing babies while they're still in the mother's womb.”

The bill passed the Senate 21-10 with two Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. All three northwest Ohio Republicans — Sens. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), Cliff Hite (R., Findlay), and David Burke (R., Marysville) — supported it. Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) was absent.

“New president, new Supreme Court justice appointee, changed the dynamic,” Senate President Keith Faber (R., Celina) said after the vote. “I think it has a better chance (to survive a constitutional challenge) than it did before. I think the issue is still one about tactics and strategy.”

The House had previously approved a stand-alone “Heartbeat Bill,” so it voted 56-39 late Tuesday night to forward the Senate version on to Mr. Kasich.

Supporting the bill from northwest Ohio were Derek Merrin (R., Monclova Township), Robert McColley (R., Napoleon), Robert Sprague (R., Findlay), Tony Burkley (R., Payne), Bill Reineke (R., Tiffin), and Bob Cupp (R., Lima).

Voting “no” were Reps. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), Mike Sheehy (D., Oregon), Michael Ashford (D., Toledo), Steve Arndt (R., Port Clinton) and Theresa Gavarone (R., Bowling Green).

The bill provides for exceptions to protect the life of the woman or to prevent “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” The latter provision is a higher standard than the exception for a woman's health included in the 20-weeks bill that passed the Senate last year.

If a doctor performs an abortion in violation of the Heartbeat provisions, he could face a fifth-degree felony.

Fedor, who revealed her own rape and abortion when the original bill passed the House a year ago, took aim at the GOP pushing it.

“You are totally disrespecting the rule of law for political points,” she said. “I am deeply offended by the fluffiness of your morality in condemning people like me for political advantage to run statewide.”

The backers of the bill have made it clear they want to get a challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court. They hope the high court will use it overturn its landmark Roe vs. Wade decision that upheld abortion as a constitutional right of privacy.

In addition to being opposed by abortion rights advocates, the bill is opposed by Ohio Right to Life, which believes it pushes the envelope too far to survive a constitutional challenge.

“Any restriction pre-viability is a challenge to Roe vs. Wade,” group president Mike Gonidakis said. “It’s the opinion of Ohio Right to Life that our incremental approach, the 20-week bill, is the best bill to be the test case.”

House Bill 493, which contains the Heartbeat language, also contains a financial appropriation inserted by the Senate.

That opens the door for Kasich to exercise line-item veto authority to strike specific language in the bill without vetoing the entire measure.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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