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In about face, testimony allowed on amended heartbeat abortion ban

(April 8, 2019) — In an about face, the Ohio House Health Committee allowed testimony Tuesday morning on the controversial “Heartbeat Bill,” which was amended through a substitute bill at last week’s hearing.

At the third hearing on Senate Bill 23 last week, more than a dozen changes were made, including adding a $10,000 fine for physicians performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected and funneling the money into a state adoption and foster-care fund.

Abortion rights supporters said that Health Committee Chair Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova, who did not respond to requests for comment from The Dispatch, did not intend as of Monday to permit further testimony. But, testimony was allowed as the committee met Tuesday morning.

The bill also would encourage — but does not require — the use of trans-vaginal ultrasounds, which can detect a heartbeat earlier than external, abdominal ultrasounds. Under the revamped bill, the state could not exclude trans-vaginal ultrasounds as a detection method.

Additionally, the new version would eliminate legal protections for doctors if a wrongful-death lawsuit is filed.

“For such an extreme and immoral bill, it’s unconscionable that the Health Committee refuses to hear further testimony,” said Elaina Ramsey, executive director of the Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice said on Monday. “Ohioans deserve transparency and due process, especially with this cruel, dangerous and unconstitutional bill that criminalizes doctors and punishes women.”

“Despite the severity of the impact of the new language in the bill, Representative Merrin is forcing a vote without an appropriate review and discussion,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Deputy Director Jaime Miracle. “This shows the blatant disregard that this legislature has for the health and safety of pregnant women across our state.”

The panel’s ranking minority member, Rep. Janine Boyd, D-Cleveland Heights, sent a letter to Merrin last week, pleading for more testimony.

“We need to hear from those whose voices have not yet been part of this debate, like the Ohio business, economic-development and tourism stakeholders who have a vested interest in how women are treated in our state and how this backward bill that harms women will affect Ohio’s reputation and our economic security,” she wrote.

An Ohio Right to Life spokeswoman said she believes Merrin and the committee have thoroughly vetted the bill. “With hundreds of Ohioans submitting testimony, showing up to testify in person, and making their voices heard, we believe that Chairman Merrin has done his due diligence,” Jamieson Gordon said.

Merrin’s committee convened Tuesday to discuss the bill a final time and add more possible amendments before sending it to the House floor for a vote, perhaps on Wednesday. The Senate then would vote whether to accept House changes to the bill or meet in conference committee to work out the differences.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk. DeWine’s predecessor, Republican John Kasich, had vetoed the bill twice, saying it would be declared unconstitutional in the courts.