To win votes for one of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the nation, an Ohio anti-abortion group has employed an unexpected team of lobbyists: children with teddy bears.
Ohio Senate staffer Leo Almeida says he was sitting in his office Tuesday morning when two young girls, who looked about nine or ten years old, walked in holding a teddy bear. One of the girls squeezed the bear, Almeida said, to play the ultrasound recording of a fetal heartbeat. She then recited a pre-written spiel asking state Sen. Capri Cafaro (D) to support the Ohio "heartbeat bill," a controversial anti-abortion bill that would ban abortion after the fetal heartbeat is detectable.
"She seemed really, really nervous," Almeida, an administrative assistant for Cafaro, told HuffPost. "I've had other kids come into the office with adults, but usually the adults introduce them and explain what the group is trying to do. I've never had just a kid come up alone."
The tactic did not go over well with state senators.
"I'm not at all supportive of the bill, and I'm not supportive of them sending kids in my office with a teddy bear that mimics a heartbeat, either," Sen. Shirley Smith (D) told HuffPost. "I thought that was a very cheap exploitation of kids. I would rather them come in my office and ask to sit down and talk about it, rather than send a kid into my office. I didn't like it at all -- in fact, I didn't even want the teddy bear."
"It is an emotional kind of tactic, bringing young children in and having them bring teddy bears. I think that's a little low," Sen. Charleta Tavares (D) said. "I think on this very emotional and highly charged issue, people have already made up their minds."
The same day as the teddy bear deliveries, eight-year-old Christian Harrington delivered a speech about the heartbeat bill at the Ohio Statehouse. The Daily Record reports that he was barely tall enough to see over the podium.
"I'm here to save babies with beating hearts," Harrington told a packed committee hearing room. "And I want to tell the senators to pass the heartbeat bill right now. And when I mean right now, I mean right now."
Faith 2 Action, the anti-abortion group sponsoring the teddy bears, sent children into all 33 Ohio Senate offices on Tuesday morning to lobby for the abortion restriction bill. The fetal heartbeat can be heard as early as six weeks into the pregnancy -- more than three months earlier than the "fetal viability" limit set by the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.
The group did not respond to calls for comment, nor did any state senator who supports the bill.
"It's not surprising to see they're using such emotionally abusive tactics to distract from the fact that this bill is clearly unconstitutional," said Erin Matson, action vice president for the National Organization for Women.
The bill, which the Ohio House passed in July, is seen as so extreme that it has divided even Ohio's anti-abortion community. If it passes the Senate, a number of reproductive-rights advocacy groups will likely challenge it in court, resulting in a lengthy and expensive legal battle that Ohio would likely lose.
"We certainly don't want the courts to reaffirm Roe with a decision in Ohio," Mike Gonidakis, executive director of Ohio Right to Life, said when the bill was introduced in March.
Now the bill is tied up in the state Senate. It was expected to pass before the end of the year, but Senate President Tom Niehaus (R) delayed a hearing on the bill at the last minute, saying that the 20 or so "eleventh hour" changes to the bill required more time to sort through and consider.
Tavares said pro-abortion rights lawmakers are tired of the high volume of anti-abortion bills coming through the Senate this term, and the means by which activist groups are trying to push them.
"If anything, these tactics have made legislators more firm in their beliefs," she said. "And in some cases, more angry."