SPRINGFIELD – For months now, a conservative nonprofit has pressured Republican state senators to push a controversial abortion bill to the Senate floor for a vote. The bill passed the Ohio House in June 2011.
If passed, the so-called “heartbeat bill” would likely face court review to challenge the federal case law that makes abortion legal. Some lawmakers have suggested that shouldn’t be the point of state legislation.
The interest group, Faith 2 Direct Action, believes pressuring lawmakers is the way democracy functions. The senators are less than thrilled to have their names splashed in newspaper advertisements as “RINOs,” or Republicans In Name Only.
Last week, a full-page ad in the Springfield News-Sun asked voters to call the office of State Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, and demand action on the bill. Widener said five people called in response, with two in support of the bill and three opposed to the ad itself.
Widener has said he would vote for the bill if it made the Senate floor, but that he’s not pressuring Senate leadership to put it to a vote until it passes constitutionality reviews.
“You would think (the group’s) efforts would be better directed to hiring the best attorneys in the country to make sure this passes through committee,” Widener said. “These are smart people reviewing this. ... Why should we pass an unconstitutional bill?”
Janet Folger Porter, chief executive officer of Faith 2 Direct Action, said support is support, and what’s happening now is just political posturing.
“It’s meaningless to say you’re going to vote for a bill if you don’t pressure it to come to the floor,” Porter said.
Porter has fought abortion laws in Ohio as a former legislative director for the Ohio Right to Life campaign, where she pushed for and secured a law banning “partial birth abortion.”
In past weeks, her group has placed nearly 20 ads attacking conservative state senators, saying they haven’t followed through on what she calls “what we elected them for: to protect the innocent.”
The bill could clash with the federal abortion law because most women don’t have a doctor’s appointment to confirm a pregnancy until about six weeks into it. Heartbeats are often detected starting at six weeks — so if the ban passed, most women would lose the option of an abortion.
“There’s very little chance (the) bill would become law in any meaningful sense before it was challenged in court,” said Cedarville University political scientist Mark Caleb Smith.
In its advertisement, Faith 2 Action says it wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the first and second trimesters of a pregnancy.
Smith said the court as it’s now composed would not overturn Roe.
Porter said that that’s not necessarily true, and that if the law were to make it to the high court in five years or so, there’s no telling what the court’s makeup would be.
The group behind the ads is composed of two entities — the nonprofit Faith 2 Action Ministries and its companion “social welfare organization,” Faith 2 Direct Action — and neither of them is required to disclose its donors.
“There are many donors, and some of them are very, very wealthy,” Porter said. They “are certainly free to discuss whether they give, but ... I’m focused on passing the bill. Everything else is minutia.”
Before the recent ads, Widener said, the group had “delivered teddy bears to all the legislative offices, flowers, candy, all of which are over the legal limits.
“We have over the course of this year been taking them to the legal counsel, who then has to call the group and say, ‘Come pick this up.’ ”
Widener said, “Frankly, I’m proud of my colleagues who say we’re not going to pass a bill that’s not constitutional.”
But Porter has said she won’t quit. Citing other abortion laws she’s fought against, “if we had listened to the naysayers, those laws would still be on the books,” she said.
Smith, the political scientist, said the principle of people’s beliefs often trumps political practicality. “Even if it fails, (for those people) it’s worth doing for moral reasons,” he said.
“But you’re not going to overturn one of the most consequential Supreme Court decisions in a couple years with a state law.”
Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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