Ohio, Texas Duel for Most Restrictive Abortion Law

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Anti-abortion groups in Ohio are pushing for the passage of a state law banning abortions if a doctor is able to detect a heartbeat in the fetus—which would significantly limit the time period when a woman can obtain a legal abortion.

A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks after conception. Currently, abortions are generally legal through the second trimester of pregnancy—up to 24 weeks (and longer in cases where the woman's life is at risk, though that depends on state laws). Ohio state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, a Republican, plans to introduce his "Heartbeat Bill" on Wednesday, according to a press release issued on Monday. The Associated Press reports that 40 of 99 state representatives have signed on as cosponsors.

Among the groups advocating for the measure is the national anti-abortion group Faith2Action, and the group's president, Janet Porter, says "it will be the most protective law in the nation." The group is rallying anti-abortion activists to send thousands of red balloons to the statehouse this week in a show of support for the legislation. Their website promoting the bill includes a horrible knock-off of Nena's "99 Luftballoons" featuring dancing babies—actual babies, not 6-week-old fetuses—as well as some images of sonograms that make them appear to be dancing. The site does not, however, include text of the actual bill that Wachtmann intends to introduce this week.

Anti-abortion activists and bill sponsor Wachtmann—who chairs the House Health Committee—are hoping to once again use Ohio as a model for other states. They point to the fact that the state legislature was the first to pass a "partial-birth abortion" ban in 1995. Other states followed suit, until a federal law was passed and later upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Ohio bill arives as the Texas legislature is considering a bill that would require women to have a sonogram before they can have an abortion—and if the fetus has a heartbeat, would force the woman to listen to it. A committee in the Texas Senate is set to begin hearings this week after Gov. Rick Perry (R) fast-tracked the sonogram legislation by deeming it an "emergency" item. At the federal level, House Republicans have also been moving to dramatically restrict access to abortion by attempting to redefine rape and drafting a proposal that would doctors to refuse to provide abortion services even when the woman's life is at risk.

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