Opponents of an Ohio bill banning abortions at the first detectable fetal heartbeat told senators Tuesday the measure is unconstitutional, radical and cruel and would effectively ban abortion in the state.
Interested parties, including clergy members and doctors, also spoke to a committee considering what's referred to as the "heartbeat bill," which would give Ohio the most stringent abortion limit in the nation.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, called the bill an outrageous piece of legislation that "aims to roll back the right to privacy and virtually eliminate a woman's right to choose."
"This radical ban would outlaw abortion at a point in pregnancy when many women do not yet realize they are pregnant. This measure would virtually eliminate access to legal abortion in Ohio," Copeland said in a statement prepared for the hearing. "It does not even provide exceptions for survivors of rape or incest, to protect the pregnant woman's health or in cases of fatal fetal anomalies."
Dozens filled hallways and the hearing room to protest the bill during what was the measure's second hearing. Many wore pink to contrast themselves with proponents, who wear red to represent hearts.
Carla Sokol, a 42-year-old entrepreneur from Upper Arlington, was among the pink-shirted opponents.
"It's too strict. Just leave women's rights alone, that's my stance," she said. "I think we're bright enough to make our own decisions."
After sitting idle for months, the bill debuted in the Senate last week, when proponents testified. Committee and floor votes could come this week. A third hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
Any Senate changes would need approval from the Ohio House, which passed the bill this spring.
Gary Dougherty, state legislative director of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio, called the bill cruel and asked legislators to reject it and instead focus on a Senate bill aimed at preventing unwanted pregnancies. He also called on them to focus on fixing Ohio's economy and creating more jobs.
"Ohio Senators should take notice: Women are watching this waste of time and money that is making a bad situation worse for Ohio women and families," he said in a statement prepared for the hearing.
Dennis Sullivan, a physician, bioethicist and board member of Ohio Right to Life, testified that giving women the opportunity to hear or see a fetal heartbeat is essential to her making an informed choice.
Ohio Right to Life is promoting a separate bill that requires women to have the option of hearing or seeing the fetal heartbeat before an abortion takes place, but the legislation stops short of banning abortions at that point. Senators were weighing Tuesday whether to amend the bill to look more like the Right to Life version.
Faith2Action President Janet Porter, the lead promoter of the heartbeat bill, commended senators for holding hearings on the controversial bill _ and urged them in a statement not to water down the legislation.
The bill "is the best opportunity to respect and protect human life we have ever had in this state," she said. "Of course, we want to make sure we actually protect babies with beating hearts and not just tell people about them _ as some are suggesting."
Backers of the bill hope if it becomes law it would provoke a legal challenge and overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in the United States.
Copeland criticized what she called "an effort to put Ohio at the center of one of our nation's most contentious and costly legal battles, one that is ill conceived given the real needs of the state at this time."
Dougherty reminded legislators that they pledged in their oaths of office to support the U.S. and state constitutions.
About 28,000 women had abortions in Ohio last year, according to the state Health Department, and Copeland said roughly one in three women has an abortion at some point in her life.
"They are the women who raise our children and who care for our elderly parents. They work in our offices and factories. They pay taxes, and they vote. They are leaders in our churches, our schools and our government," she said. "They are the backbone of our families and our state. And yet the sponsors of this bill do not trust them."
She also questioned how many women would be killed or maimed if they sought abortions without being able to turn to doctors or state-inspected clinics.
"Outlawing abortion will not make it go away," Copeland said. "My own grandmother had an illegal abortion during The Great Depression. Outlawing abortion makes it dangerous."
Associated Press Writer JoAnne Viviano contributed to this report.