A rift over legal tactics has split the anti-abortion movement, with leaders facing a Tea Party-like insurrection from many grass-roots activists impatient with the pace of change.
Established anti-abortion leaders like National Right to Life and Catholic bishops have pushed for chipping away at the edges of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.
Activists and evangelical Christians are pressing for an all-out legal assault on Roe. v. Wade in the hope that the Supreme Court is ready to consider a change in the ruling.
The rift widened last month over a “personhood” amendment in Mississippi that would have barred all abortions by giving legal rights to embryos. It was voted down.
A bill before the Ohio legislature that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detectable (six to eight weeks into pregnancy) is the latest effort by activists to force a legal showdown. The “heartbeat bill” is tearing apart the state’s anti-abortion forces.
Ohio Right to Life and the state Catholic conference have refused to support the measure, arguing that the court is not ready for such a radical step and that it could cause a legal setback.
Defenders of abortion rights, in turn, call banning abortions at the first sign of a heartbeat a patently unconstitutional proposal that is doomed to failure.
The refusal of Ohio Right to Life to get behind the heartbeat proposal has led to bitter dissent. In the last two weeks, six county chapters have angrily withdrawn from the organization including the Cincinnati chapter, the state’s oldest and largest.
The bill is awaiting action in the Republican Senate. If it passes, which some expect to happen this winter, Gov. John R. Kasich, a conservative Republican, is likely to sign it.
National Right to Life, the umbrella group for state chapters, has taken no position on the heartbeat bill or on the fracturing of the movement.
The heartbeat bill, if not as sweeping as personhood, has a more visceral public appeal and avoids some of the pitfalls of the personhood proposal, posing no threat to contraception or critical medical care. The law would prevent a majority of abortions, perhaps 80% to 90%. Doctors who do abortions in violation would be subject to a felony charge, fines, and loss of their medical license, but the women would not face charges. The bill would allow an abortion if a woman’s life or a major bodily function were in danger. Abortions for victims of rape or incest would not be allowed.
In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court established a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb. Proponents of the heartbeat bill acknowledge that federal courts would declare it unconstitutional. Their hope is that the Court would take it on and that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is open to rethinking Roe.
Via The New York Times.