Gearing up for an anticipated vote Tuesday, the Ohio House Health Committee apparently will not accept additional testimony on the controversial "heartbeat bill" despite introducing a substitute bill at last week's hearing.
At the third hearing on Senate Bill 23 last week, over a dozen changes were made to the bill, including adding a $10,000 fine for physicians performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected and funneling the money into a state adoption and foster care fund.
The bill also would encourage — but does not require — the use of trans-vaginal ultrasounds, which can detect a heartbeat earlier than external, abdominal ultrasounds. Under the revamped bill, the state could not exclude trans-vaginal ultrasounds as a detection method.
Additionally, the new version would eliminate legal protections for doctors, preventing them from arguing that the “heartbeat bill” is unconstitutional — unless a court deems it such — if a wrongful death suit is filed.
“For such an extreme and immoral bill, it’s unconscionable that the Health Committee refuses to hear further testimony,” said Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Executive Director Elaina Ramsey. “Ohioans deserve transparency and due process, especially with this cruel, dangerous, and unconstitutional bill that criminalizes doctors and punishes women."
Health Committee Chair Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova, did not respond to requests for comment.
“Despite the severity of the impact of the new language in the bill, the Rep. Merrin is forcing a vote without an appropriate review and discussion,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Deputy Director Jaime Miracle. “This shows the blatant disregard that this legislature has for the health and safety of pregnant women across our state.”
The panel’s ranking minority member, Rep. Janine Boyd, D-Cleveland Heights, sent a letter to Merrin last week, pleading for more testimony.
“We need to hear from those whose voices have not yet been part of this debate, like the Ohio business, economic development and tourism stakeholders who have a vested interest in how women are treated in our state and how this backward bill that harms women will affect Ohio’s reputation and our economic security," she wrote. "We need to stop the rush to pass this bill into law before members fully understand its impact.”
An Ohio Right to Life spokeswoman said she believes Merrin and the committee have thoroughly vetted the bill, which makes it a felony for physicians to perform an abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, generally as early as six weeks.
“With hundreds of Ohioans submitting testimony, showing up to testify in person, and making their voices heard, we believe that Chairman Merrin has done his due diligence,” Jamieson Gordon said. “We are certainly open and supportive to changes that make the legislation stronger."
Merrin’s committee is set to convene Tuesday for the final time to discuss the bill and add possible amendments before sending it to the House floor, possibly on Wednesday. If the House passes the bill, the Senate, which passed the bill previously, must decide whether to accept the House’s amendments. If the Senate refuses, it would head to a conference committee for more deliberation.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk. DeWine's predecessor, Republican John Kasich, vetoed the bill twice, saying it would be declared unconstitutional in the courts.
Maggie Prosser is a fellow with the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ProsserMaggie