MARTINS FERRY -- A new bill in Ohio's General Assembly could mean an end to legal abortions in the state.
The "heartbeat bill," as it is popularly known, would outlaw abortions after the first detectable heartbeat.
The bill's sponsors underline presence of a second heartbeat as scientific proof of a fetus as a separate being entitled to protection under the law. Detractors say there are differing opinions as to whether a heartbeat represents independent life at that stage of development.
There also are questions about the constitutionality of such a bill. Critics note it would have the practical effect of eliminating all legal abortions within the state, since most fetal heartbeats are detectable 18 days after conception and almost always by the sixth week of gestation.
Spokespersons from National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League Pro-Choice Ohio point out most women are unaware of pregnancy before the first heartbeat. According to Associated Press reports, 95 percent of Ohio's abortions take place after the first fetal heartbeat.
The bill enjoys 49 co-sponsors.
"We felt we had to move forward," said Ohio Rep. Allen Landis, R-Dover. "We knew going in that there would be challenges."
He said he became aware of the legislation about four weeks ago. Landis added abortion was an issue the public regularly asked him about during his campaign and was a high priority among voters who spoke to him.
"There are people who have been at work on it," he said. "It's a bill that's very important. There seems to be a lot of support for it in the House."
Ohio Sen. Jason Wilson, D-Columbiana, said his record as a strong pro-life Democrat speaks for itself. He approves of the bill but has questions regarding its legality.
"I have very good, solid pro-life record. I would be in support of this bill," he said, adding Ohio Right to Life informs him there may be questions regarding the constitutionality of the bill.
"I came to Columbus to work on the issues confronting hard working families in my district, like creating good-paying jobs," said Ohio Rep. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville. "This legislation is likely to be found unconstitutional, even if Ohio Right to Life doesn't support it.
"I believe we should be focusing on creating new jobs and getting people back to work."
The bill is in committee and there is no clear indication when it could come up for a vote.
There are five bills pending in the general assembly that would impact abortion rights. NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokespersons have called the "heartbeat bill" a waste of committee time and a contradiction among lawmakers who campaigned on platforms of economic interests and less government intervention.
In addition, they also note the legislation does not address unplanned pregnancies, pregnancy complications or access to pre-natal care.