The GOP-controlled House Health Committee passed the “heartbeat bill” Tuesday, after weeks of testimony, dozens of proposed amendments and late changes to the controversial legislation.

The GOP-controlled House Health Committee passed the “heartbeat bill” Tuesday, after weeks of testimony, dozens of proposed amendments and late changes to the controversial legislation.

Along party lines, the House’s latest version of Senate Bill 23 passed 11-7. While the current version does not touch the core of the bill — to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected — it does impose additional fines to physicians who perform abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable; eliminates various legal protections for physicians; and encourages the use of more sensitive medical technology to detect fetal heartbeats.

Committee Democrats’ proposed a slew of amendments, of which most failed along party lines. Amendments included: exceptions for fetal abnormalities, for African American women, women’s mental health, and religious exemptions.

“If you are moved by your faith system, then you must have respect for other faith systems,” said Rep. Janine Boyd, D-Cleveland, who has consistently argued religious standards for when life beings vary.

Committee Chair Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova, said abortion rights are not a religious issue, despite earlier saying — in response to Ravenna-Democratic Rep. Randi Clites’ proposal except fetuses with abnormalities — “we are all made in the image of God.”

Democrats also introduced a grouping of bills that Merrin shot down as “not germane to the bill” including: appropriating state funds for maternal and prenatal health, equal to the litigation costs the state is spending to defend abortion-restrictive legislation; providing transportation and child care vouchers to mothers; reinstating funding to Planned Parenthood and other women’s clinics; and teaching age-appropriate sex education in schools.

The heartbeat bill “has nothing to do with what’s good for the state of Ohio and our health,” Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said. “If it did, guess what we’d be talking about in this committee: ... reducing our infant mortality rate, our maternal mortality rate, our addiction crisis, our chronic diseases, our mental health. ... This is a sham.”

Merrin stressed that Democratic members’ amendments were submitted after business hours, and therefore the majority had inadequate time to prepare. Boyd — the ranking minority member — countered, saying that several GOP amendments were also turned in late.

Despite refusing to accept testimony as of Monday night, Merrin allowed three opponents to provide oral testimony, and one to submit written testimony. He addressed the crowd saying the committee had already heard hundreds of hours of testimony and claimed that was sufficient.

“The women of Ohio deserve better than to be pawns in a political game,” said Gaby Garcia-Vera of Catholics for Choice, who was originally told by Merrin’s office they would not accept his testimony.

The bill is scheduled for the House floor Wednesday, where it is anticipated to pass. If so, the Senate will have to vote whether to accept the House’s changes. If the Senate refuses the House’s version, it will head to a conference committee for more deliberation.

Gov. Mike DeWine has routinely indicated he will sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.

Asked what differentiates the Ohio bill from heartbeat bans in other states that have been overturned in the courts, DeWine said, “Well, I don’t think we can project what a future (U.S.) Supreme Court will do, particularly in regard to the fact it could take several years before a bill like this would reach the Supreme Court.”

DeWine said the final language of the bill has not been determined when asked if the intent of the measure was to prompt a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that held states could impose reasonable restrictions on abortion, but not ban the procedure.

“I’ve made it very clear for a long time that I’m pro-life, that I think the essential function of government is the protect the most vulnerable people among us, and that certainly includes the unborn,” DeWine said.


Dispatch reporter Randy Ludlow contributed to this story.

mprosser@dispatch.com

@ProsserMaggie