JULIE CARR SMYTH, AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A bill that would ban most abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat again cleared the state House on Wednesday following a startlingly emotional floor debate in which a veteran female lawmaker revealed she’d been raped and had an abortion and a male legislator shed tears as he recounted praying his stillborn child would take a breath.
Advocates now have the rest of the two-year session to lobby the bill’s opponents in the Senate.
The Republican-controlled House approved the bill 55-40 in its third vote on it in as many sessions. The legislation met its demise in the Senate two sessions ago and last session made it as far as the House floor and was voted down.
Proponents on Wednesday defended the bill as life-protecting, while opponents called it unconstitutional and heavy-handed.
Sponsoring Rep. Christina Hagan, a Uniontown Republican, set the tone for the debate by revealing in her opening remarks that her heartbeat had stopped repeatedly while she was being delivered and her mother might have given up hope but didn’t.
“This bill is very much about loving women and loving children and providing that expansion of rights to the unborn,” she said.
Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Cleveland Democrat, also had to compose herself while speaking as she urged colleagues to “love thy neighbor,” including women she said make decisions to have abortions “in love.”
For Rep. Teresa Fedor, a Toledo Democrat, the debate was progressing with one important voice missing: that of the rape victim.
Fedor, a champion of legislation against human trafficking, jotted down words such as “judge,” ”God!” ”shame” and “political ambition” from Wednesday’s debate and, when enough of them filled her paper, stood to speak.
“I heard all these stories that just fit your scenario, and I respect that, but you don’t respect my reason — my rape, my abortion,” she said. “And I guarantee you there are other women who should stand up with me and be courageous enough to speak that voice.”
She called the bill “fundamentally inhuman.”
After the vote, Fedor told several reporters she was “very young” when she was raped and had told “probably two people.”
“I’m in this political arena, you know, and you have to make a decision: How far are you willing to go to really represent?” she said. “And then, with something like this (bill), it just was time.”
The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify people who say they’re victims of sexual assaults unless they come forward publicly, as Fedor has done.
Several major anti-abortion groups, including Ohio Right to Life, have failed to support passage of the heartbeat bill, fearing it would prompt a losing challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that would serve only to expand abortion rights.
Senate President Keith Faber, a Celina Republican, said he shared those concerns but intends to review the latest version of the bill and hold hearings.
“I’m still waiting for that legal scholar to come forward and say, ‘The heartbeat bill is constitutional,’” he said.
Associated Press reporter Ann Sanner contributed to this report.
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