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Ohio Senate ends ‘heartbeat’ abortion bill

– The leader of the Ohio Senate put a stop Tuesday to a bill that would have imposed the most stringent restriction on abortions in the nation.

The chamber doesn’t plan to vote on the “heartbeat bill” before the end of the legislative session next month, Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus said, citing concerns the resulting law might have been found to be unconstitutional.

“I want to continue our focus on jobs and the economy,” Niehaus told reporters. “That’s what people are concerned about.”

The bill proposed banning abortions after the first fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy. It had fiercely divided Ohio’s anti-abortion community, while energizing abortion rights proponents who protested against it.

Backers hoped the stringent nature of the bill would provoke a legal challenge with the potential to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

Ohio Right to Life, the state’s largest and oldest anti-abortion group, and many state lawmakers expressed concern the limit would be unconstitutional – jeopardizing other abortion limits in Ohio and expanding access to legal abortions.

The measure initially had stalled in both chambers as leaders sought legal advice as to whether the bill could withstand a court challenge. It passed the House in June 2011 and had remained pending in the Senate since.

Niehaus, who is leaving the Senate at the end of the year because of term limits, said a number of factors went into his decision not to bring the bill to a floor vote during the lame-duck session. He cited lingering constitutional concerns, but he would not elaborate on other concerns he had with the measure.

Supporters had offered various versions of the proposal in recent weeks, Neihaus said. And a new draft had been brought to him as recently as Tuesday morning.

The heartbeat bill’s demise marked the end of one of the noisiest lobbying efforts in recent state memory.

One crowded House hearing featured what supporters called “the state’s youngest legislative witness” – an in utero fetus. Ultrasounds were performed at the hearing on two women who were early in their pregnancies, so legislators could see and hear the fetal hearts. People whose mothers had sought abortions that failed – labeled “abortion survivors” – were featured at another hearing.

Proponents delivered bouquets of red heart-shaped balloons and teddy bears to lawmakers, flew banners over the Statehouse and eventually turned to angry full-page ads in the Columbus newspaper.

Opponents also grew vocal. They rallied at the Statehouse during key votes, arguing the legislation could endanger the lives of women, forcing them to seek the procedure in unhealthy circumstances.

Janet Folger Porter, president of Ohio-based Faith2Action and the bill’s champion, said she was confident the legislation would be upheld in court if passed.

“This is the closest we have ever been to protecting babies with beating hearts,” she said when it passed the House this summer. “When this passes, it will be the most protective legislation in the nation.”

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