On Tuesday, facing an uphill battle in their attempt to pass a stringent anti-abortion bill as a standalone measure, Ohio lawmakers attempted to tack it onto an unrelated piece of legislation that aims to reduce infant mortality.
Senate Bill 276 is primarily concerned with lowering the state’s disproportionately high rate of infant deaths by requiring the Ohio Department of Health to establish a sleep safety program. It’s one of a series of bills hoping to tackle the issue.
But on Tuesday afternoon, State Rep. Matt Lynch (R) offered an amendment to SB 276 that has the exact same language as the six-week abortion ban that a handful of Republicans have been trying to advance in the current lame duck session. Six other lawmakers signaled their support for the amended version of the bill.
The surprise move didn’t go over well with most of Lynch’s colleagues in the House, who blocked the vote on SB 276 to avoid passing the so-called “heatbeat bill” — which has earned that nickname because it would criminalize abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The speaker of the House told the Columbus Dispatch that he doesn’t like last-minute amendments of that “magnitude.”
Although lawmakers could continue using procedural moves to delay a vote on SB 276, some members of the legislature aren’t pleased about being forced to stall the infant mortality bill. The measure has already passed the Senate and was expected to reach Gov. John Kasich’s (R) desk.
Ohio Sen. Charleta Tavares (D), one of the co-sponsors of SB 276, plans to remove her name from the legislation if it moves forward with the heartbeat bill amendment intact. Tavares’ office confirmed to ThinkProgress that the senator does not support the proposed six-week abortion ban.
“It would be a shame for such a bill to lose support,” Celeste Glasgow Ribbins, the director of communications at Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, told ThinkProgress. “It’s unconscionable for legislators to add extreme language that would be detrimental to women’s health into a bill that was clearly designed to improve health outcomes for people in the state.” Six-week bans are so controversial that they often divide the anti-choice community; indeed, this measure has repeatedly failed in Ohio’s legislature. Because heartbeat bills are a clear violation of Roe v. Wade, which guarantees legal access to abortion until the point of viability at about 23 weeks, even conservative lawmakers are wary that passing them will provoke court challenges.
Nonetheless, a far-right group called Faith2Action is pressuring supporters to do everything in their power — including fasting and praying — to advance the heartbeat bill this year. And in the legislature, proponents of the measure have done their part to pull out all the stops. A few weeks ago, they restructured a House committee to stack it with lawmakers who support the policy, which allowed it to advance.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood officials say they have gathered nearly 30,000 signatures from Ohio voters who oppose the proposed ban and don’t want to see it move any further. Last week, opponents protested against the six-week ban on the steps of the statehouse.
“It has failed previously because we believe politicians recognize that it’s unconstitutional,” Glasgow Ribbins said. “It’s highly unpopular, and we’re going to continue doing everything we can to amplify the voices of the people who want to see this stopped.”