The state of Ohio is on the cusp of once again leading the way with unprecedented pro-life legislation. The first was when the Ohio legislature introduced the first Partial-Birth Abortion (PBA) ban (at the time called the D & X Abortion). As a result, this and later legislation in other states and in Washington, DC changed the landscape of abortion discourse.
The dispute surrounding PBA focused the nation’s attention on the primary victim of abortion, the unborn child. The pro-abortion argument of a “woman’s right to choose” took backseat to the humanity of the unborn child late in pregnancy. Before ultimately prevailing on the federal level, this decade-long debate turned the tide of public opinion on abortion, adding a solid ten-percent to the number of those who oppose abortion.
Now comes another groundbreaking piece of legislation—again in Ohio—that has the potential of greatly impacting the abortion debate. This time it will focus America’s attention on the humanity of the unborn child early in pregnancy, and possibly deal a fatal or debilitating blow to Roe vs. Wade. It’s called HB 125 or better known as the Heartbeat Bill.
The proposed bill is simple in its concept. It would prohibit abortion when the unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable. The heart of an unborn child begins to beat at just 18-28 days after conception; however, it cannot be heard in average clinical settings until after the mother has missed her second period. This is approximately six to eight weeks after fertilization. If the Heartbeat Bill is passed, Ohio will then protect the lives of about three-fourths or more of the developing babies who are now being killed by abortion.
This extraordinary concept is the brainchild of Janet Folger Porter, the former legislative director of Ohio Right to Life. “We don’t bury people with beating hearts because the heartbeat is a sign of life,” Janet said. “We are just applying that same measurement to this end of life.”
The Heartbeat Bill passed the House by a vote of 54-43. It now moves on to the Senate where its fate is uncertain. Dr. Willke has been credited with being a major force propelling the bill forward. Without his prestige and influence, the bill advocates say, they may not have gotten this far. Dr. Willke—often referred to as the Father of the Pro-Life Movement—is an enthusiastic supporter of the Heartbeat Bill. He said, “This bill is a simple and very positive approach to ending most abortions. I believe that now is the time to take a bold stand in a way that will both educate Americans to the truth about abortion while challenging the infamous Roe vs. Wade decision. What’s more, I think we can win.”
Even though the idea was conceived in Ohio, it may not get to be the first to enact this protective legislation. Inspired by the Buckeye State’s approach to ending abortion, Kansas is now pursuing this legislation and their pro-life governor, Sam Brownback, may sign it into law before Ohio—to Ohio’s delight. In addition, six other states are said to be involved at varying degrees promoting a similar Heartbeat Bill of their own.
Legal pundits and experts on both sides of the abortion issue agree that HB 125 is in direct conflict with Roe. Some pro-lifers have also argued it wouldn’t survive a US Supreme Court challenge. Further, they say, an adverse ruling would make an ultimate reversal of Roe even more unlikely, and could undermine previous gains made in the courts to protect unborn babies.
However, that argument contradicts recent US Supreme Court history. As late as 2000, in Stenberg vs. Carhart, the Court held that Nebraska’s Partial-Birth Abortion Ban was unconstitutional. But only seven years later—after replacing retiring pro-abortion Justice Sandra Day O’Connor with pro-life Justice Samuel Alito—the Court upheld a federal PBA ban in Gonzales vs. Carhart. The previous adverse ruling obviously did not create an impenetrable barrier to an ultimate and soon-to-follow victory. In addition, concerns about a negative Court ruling affecting previous pro-life gains never materialized.
Heartbeat Bill skeptics assume that we remain one vote shy on the US Supreme Court of overturning Roe. The Court has 9 members; 4 have voted solidly pro-life, 4 appear to be solidly pro-abortion. Justice Kennedy is the swing vote and he voted with the majority to reaffirm Roe in the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision.
But there’s evidence to indicate a perceived pro-life deficit could actually be a pro-life majority. More and more Court watchers are beginning to suspect that Justice Kennedy has shown signs of a change of heart. Particularly, they point to Kennedy’s strongly written opinion in Stenberg vs. Carhart.
Media accounts suggest that Justice Kennedy at first agreed to overturn Roe in the Casey decision—changing his mind at the eleventh hour—with the understanding by the majority that states would have reasonable leeway to pass some restrictions on abortion. Subsequent writings of Justice Kennedy show that in the wake of Casey he was clearly unhappy with the majority’s opposition to Nebraska’s PBA ban, and minced no words that it should have been ruled constitutional.
In his fiery dissent, Kennedy wrote, “The Court’s refusal to recognize Nebraska’s right to [draw a line between PBA and D&E abortion] is a dispiriting disclosure of the illogic and illegitimacy of the Court’s approach to the entire case.” Justice Kennedy accused the Court of “Casting aside the views of distinguished physicians and the statements of leading medical organizations.” He added, “For it is now Dr. Leroy Carhart who sets abortion policy for the State of Nebraska, not the legislature or the people.”
He also understood that the Court’s “health of the mother” exception made a PBA ban “meaningless,” saying a ban with the health exception “is no ban at all.”
Finally, in the closing remarks of his dissent, Kennedy wrote, “Ignoring substantial medical and ethical opinion, the Court substitutes its own judgment for the judgment of Nebraska and some 30 other States, and sweeps the law away.” That is exactly what Roe did in 1973.
Writing for the Court in Gonzales when a federal PBA ban was finally upheld, Kennedy wrote, “Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child….it seems unexceptional to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.”
While these comments don’t in themselves indicate Justice Kennedy’s desire to reverse Roe. They’re part of a bigger picture that DC insiders believe may create a perfect storm leading to the reversal or substantial curtail of Roe vs. Wade. With that potential available to us, it would be unconscionable not to give it our very best effort to get a case before the Court. Recent experience shows us there is little to lose.
Pro-abortion activists are terrified of the Heartbeat Bill not only because it would end a majority of abortions. It eliminates their most effective arguments against many past pro-life efforts—arguments that have distracted the general public’s focus to other issues. Pro-abortion activist Robin Mary wrote for AlterNet that the Heartbeat Bill “would have no effect on in-vitro fertilization, since embryos would have no protected status. It wouldn’t inherently ban contraceptive drugs or intrauterine birth control devices, as those who campaigned against ‘Personhood’ pointed out. It would take away many of the major arguments that pro-choice activists were able to use to fight the ‘Personhood’ movement without basing their argument solely on the right to an abortion.” (emphasis added)
It’s true the Heartbeat Bill won’t protect innocent human life at its earliest stage, which is our ultimate goal. However, if enacted, it will save countless babies while we continue to work to protect them all.
The Heartbeat Bill also gives pro-life advocates an effective tool to further our cause. It empowers them with a positive, uplifting message that has already been communicated to legislators and the public in creative and fun ways. Advocates of HB 125 kicked off the introduction of the bill by sending helium-filled red heart-shaped balloons to members of the Ohio House with a message asking them to support the Heartbeat Bill. During a committee hearing, two unborn babies—one just nine weeks after fertilization—testified on behalf of the bill. Their mothers consented to having a technician perform ultrasounds on their babies to show committee members the babies’ beating hearts in color.
Pro-abortion activists went apoplectic! It’s extremely difficult at best for them to effectively counter such positive and irrefutable evidence.
Momentum is with the bill’s advocates. The average American understands that if there’s a heartbeat, there is life—simple as that. This is an intellec-tual conclusion, but it’s also an emotional one. Remember that we have a whole generation of young people who are growing up with their first baby picture taken inside the womb. Ultrasound has clearly demonstrated the humanity of the unborn child to a majority of Americans. So it’s a natural progression to understand that the beating heart of an unborn baby is a convincing confirmation of the presence of a life that should be protected.
Just as the PBA Ban focused the nation’s attention on the humanity of the unborn child late in pregnancy, the Heartbeat Bill has great potential to focus the nation’s attention on the humanity of the unborn child early in pregnancy. This would facilitate a giant leap forward in our goal to protect innocent human life from fertilization to natural death. It could ultimately mean an end of the abortion industry.
Even if the Heartbeat Bill gets to the Supreme Court and is struck down—like the Partial-Birth Abortion ban—it will inform and probably change the minds of millions more people. If so, it will bring the day of full reversal of the abortion decision closer.