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Ohio Fetal Heartbeat Bill Escalating the Abortion Debate

December 7, 2011, 1:25 pm | Posted by Jennifer Butler
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Following the defeat of a radical “fetal personhood” ballot initiative on Election Day in Mississippi, another abortion legislation battle looms in Ohio, where the state Senate is considering H.B. 125, which would make performing an abortion a felony if a fetal heartbeat is detectible. Such a far-reaching restriction would likely lead to a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade. Republican Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder even admitted that “we’re writing bills for courts.”

As the New York Times reports, the legislation is dividing social conservatives:

Ohio Right to Life, which has been the premier lobby, and the state Catholic conference have refused to support the measure, arguing that the court is not ready for such a radical step and that it could cause a legal setback. But the idea has stirred the passions of some traditional leaders, even winning the endorsement of Dr. John C. Willke of Cincinnati, the former president of National Right to Life and one of the founders of the modern anti-abortion movement.

At issue is a strategic difference about whether to continue the traditional approach of incrementally restricting abortion — which has steadily narrowed access in dozens of states — or to make an immediate, direct challenge to Roe v. Wade by outright criminalizing abortion. This divide is more than a momentary split – it’s a schism that signals an intensification and radicalization of the abortion debate.

Making abortion a felony in an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade (as Ohio’s H.B. 125 would do), and restricting contraception and outlawing abortion even in cases of rape (as Mississippi’s fetal personhood amendment would have done), would bring the issue back into the partisan spotlight just in time for an election year. Similar legislation is in the works in at least ten other states, which leads the debate away from finding common ground and toward greater polarization than we’ve seen in decades.

In the context of the upcoming elections, it’ll be fascinating to see whether the usual pro-life boilerplate and vague assurances about “activist judges” suffice when controversial, concrete measures are on the agenda and division grows among opponents of abortion.

But regardless, this political dance does nothing for the women facing the difficult circumstances that lead to abortion. Doubling down on stalemated federal court battles and drastically cutting protections for vulnerable families instead of preventing unintended pregnancies and supporting those facing economic hardship is a recipe for polarization, not progress. Thankfully there are also people of good will on both sides of the abortion debate working on pragmatic solutions.

Photo credit: katerkate, Flickr

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