By Ann Sanner and Julie Carr Smyth
A nationwide coalition of anti-abortion groups said Wednesday it is preparing to push legislation in all 50 states requiring that pregnant women see and hear the fetal heartbeat before having an abortion.
The effort follows the introduction of similar legislation at the federal level by Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
Ohio Right to Life director Mike Gonidakis, whose group is part of the coalition, said the 50-state push was not a response to a bill moving through the Ohio Legislature that would outlaw the procedure at the first detectable heartbeat.
His group has not endorsed the Ohio bill because of legal concerns, though Bachmann has said she supports it.
“We know it can withstand a judicial challenge, and we know it’s an approach that’s worked over the years,” Gonidakis said of his coalition’s proposal. “Hundreds of thousands of babies are alive now because their mothers heard the heartbeat and changed their minds.”
Should the Ohio bill become law, it would impose the nation’s most stringent abortion limit.
The legislation has divided the anti-abortion community in Ohio, the home state of International Right to Life founder Jack Willke.
Ohio Right to Life has withheld its support for the so-called “heartbeat bill,” contending the measure could not withstand a court challenge under Roe v. Wade. The landmark U.S Supreme Court ruling sought to strike a balance between states’ rights to limit the procedure and a woman’s right to privacy.
The Ohio bill ties an abortion ban to the detection of the fetal heartbeat and has the potential to prevent abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy before many women know they are pregnant.
Scores of restrictions aimed at reducing access to abortion have been approved so far in state legislatures this year.
Five states including, Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, and Oklahoma have passed measures banning virtually all abortions after five months of pregnancy.
The informed-consent bill that’s being pushed in the 50 states would require abortion practitioners to make the fetal heartbeat audible and visible to pregnant women before an abortion.
It’s being backed by the National Right to Life, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Americans United for Life, Susan B. Anthony List and Family Research Council Action.
While the separate strategies show internal differences, their purpose is the same, said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, an abortion-rights group.
“Let’s be clear, they all want to take away a woman’s ability to make personal, private decisions by outlawing abortion,” Copeland said.
Gonidakis said the coalition’s plan has been in the works for six months, and has been vetted with coalition lawyers.
“This is it,” Gonidakis said. “This is the one that’s going to continue to save lives in the current court environment we have.”
The Ohio heartbeat bill cleared the state’s House in late June, though it has been stalled in the Senate.
Senate President Tom Niehaus has said he wants a group of state lawmakers to review any legal issues related to the bill and report back to him in November.
On Wednesday, supporters of the Ohio bill touted the measure’s support in the state, and they announced the creation of a new anti-abortion nonprofit, Ohio ProLife Action, that will work on getting the bill passed.
The group’s president said she sees the organization as “filling the void” created by the Ohio Right to Life’s opposition to the bill.
“We have just found that in working on this bill that there is a real need for a statewide organization,” president Linda Theis told reporters at a news conference.
Willke, of Cincinnati, has thrown his support behind the new group.
Gonidakis said Willke resigned from the board of Ohio Right to Life in August and cited his failing health in his resignation letter.
Theis called the informed consent measure a “great step,” and said her organization would support it.
Still, she said, “Their bills are just safer. We’re saying to the courts, ‘We’re going to give you something you haven’t seen before. Tell us what you think.’”