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Ohio 'Heartbeat Bill' Divides Pro-Life Community

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HEARTBEAT

A controversial new bill in Ohio that would ban abortions after the fetal heartbeat can be detected is driving a wedge into the state's pro-life community, with some concerned that a court battle over the bill could end up reaffirming Roe v. Wade.

House Bill 125, which passed in the state House of Representatives by a vote of 54-44 last week, effectively bans abortions as early as five and a half weeks into the pregnancy -- before some women even know that they're pregnant -- and contains no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother. If the bill is signed into law, a woman will only be able to receive an abortion if the doctor can prove that her life is threatened.

"Some believe that would probably diminish abortions 85 to 90 percent," state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R), the author of the bill, told HuffPost. "For those of us who believe life begins at conception, this bill is a big ask to the federal courts to protect the unborn."

The "heartbeat bill" flies in the face of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that protects the right to have an abortion up until the fetus would be viable outside the womb, which is usually placed at about 24 weeks into the pregnancy. If it passes into law, it will likely be challenged in court by any number of abortion rights advocacy groups, resulting in a lengthy legal battle that Ohio would likely lose.

"Unfortunately, the court has ruled that states can place limitations on post-viability abortions, but pre-viability there can be zero restrictions," Mike Gonidakis, executive director of Ohio Right to Life, told the Columbus Dispatch in March. "We certainly don't want the courts to reaffirm Roe with a decision in Ohio."

Ohio Right to Life has publicly refused to support the "heartbeat bill" since it was first discussed in March, despite its steady record of supporting and even authoring anti-abortion legislation. Gonidakis said a team of "national legal experts" helped his organization to determine that a legal battle over the bill could end up overturning other pro-life laws in Ohio, such as informed consent requirements.

Further, the pro-life group worries that taxpayers would have to foot the bill for a lengthy court battle that could end up costing millions.

"These are the same taxpayers [Republican lawmakers] are trying to protect from funding abortions," Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, told HuffPost. "It's ridiculous that they profess to care so much about taxpayer funds, but not about the expensive lawsuits they're about launch in defense of this abortion ban."

Abortion rights groups recently challenged a measure in South Dakota that forces women to wait three days to have an abortion, and officials estimated the cost of defending that law at $1.7 million to $4.5 million in taxpayer dollars.

"In a state like Ohio, you're concerned about all public dollars and where they're going," Gonidakis said.

But Rep. Wachtmann said that's a "pathetic" argument.

"There's a very limited crowd of pro-lifers that, beyond my wildest imagination, continue to be opposed to this legislation," he told HuffPost. "The argument that we dare not spend taxpayers' money to defend life is weak and ridiculous. I don't know of anything more precious to spend money on than to protect unborn babies."

In addition to Ohio Right to Life, four House Republicans with typically pro-life records voted against the extreme "heartbeat bill." The GOP-dominated Senate is expected to take up the measure in September, but Wachtmann said he's worried that Ohio Right to Life's opposition to the bill could cost it a few supporters.

"Their lack of support creates at least a few headaches to get this thing done," he said, "but I think we have enough pro-life senators to overcome that obstacle."

Wachtmann, who has been a longtime, ardent supporter of Ohio Right to Life, said he thinks Gonidakis is refusing to support the "heartbeat bill" because it's the one anti-abortion measure this session that wasn't his idea.

"I still stand for what they do," he said. "It's just unfortunate that that he's too immature to put his ego aside to support this bill."

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