'Heartbeat' abortion bill to make return in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Abortion opponents in Ohio plan to reintroduce a proposal to effectively ban the procedure after the first fetal heartbeat is detected, sometimes as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

State Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, the previous sponsor of the bill, told The Associated Press that he and others will announce plans to reintroduce the so-called "heartbeat bill" at a Thursday news conference.

About 40 of the 99 Ohio House members have signed onto the bill as co-sponsors, said Wachtmann, a Republican who chairs of the House Health and Aging Committee.

The abortion measure failed last year after the Senate's GOP leader blocked it from a vote. He has since retired due to term limits.

The measure had fiercely divided Ohio's anti-abortion community, with some fearing a court challenge could undo other abortion restrictions already in place. It also energized anti-abortion rights groups who rallied against it.

Wachtmann acknowledged in a Wednesday interview that he expected the bill to face obstacles. Still, he said he wanted to give it another shot.

"I wouldn't introduce a bill if I didn't think it could be done," said Wachtmann, of Napoleon, in northwest Ohio.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of TLC's "19 Kids and Counting," are also expected to speak at Thursday's news conference.

Backers hope the stringent nature of the heartbeat bill will 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.

Last session's push for the Ohio bill had been one of 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.

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