Jim Siegel at the Columbus Dispatch reports:
Saying he was tired of seeing his members bullied by certain factions of the “pro-life” community, Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus yesterday took new steps to ensure that the “heartbeat bill” does not make it to the Senate floor over his opposition.
Niehaus, R-New Richmond, yesterday removed two members of Senate GOP leadership, Sens. Keith Faber and Shannon Jones, from the Senate Rules and Reference Committee. The committee then voted to pull the bill out of the Senate Health Committee and move it to the Rules Committee, which Niehaus chairs.
The action effectively shut off a procedural move that could have forced a vote on the bill.
Niehaus also said that Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid was a key reason why he does not want to pass the bill, which would create the most-restrictive abortion law in the country. Supporters expect the law would be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, in hopes of overturning Roe v. Wade. The hope was that Romney would appoint justices to support such a decision.
“The risk became: Do you send a bill to the U.S. Supreme Court that has the potential to undermine all of the good work the right-to-life community has done?” Niehaus said. “I don’t know the answer. That appeared to me to be an extreme risk to take, and I was not willing to take that risk.”
Faber, the No. 2 Senate leader who will be Senate president when the new legislative session begins in January, and Jones have been two of the biggest supporters of the anti-abortion bill.
Faith2Action, the lead group pushing for the heartbeat bill, has called for GOP senators to sign a discharge petition — a rarely used procedure in which, if a majority of a chamber’s members sign on, a bill can be forced out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.
But moving the bill to the Rules Committee effectively blocks that effort because a bill must be in a committee for at least 30 days before a discharge petition can be used. The Senate will adjourn for the year before 30 days pass.
“This bill saw some of the most-intense lobbying efforts in recent memory. That’s fine,” Niehaus said. “But threatening, in my mind, goes over the line. For a small faction of the pro-life community to target the most pro-life group of senators in recent memory was, to me, outrageous.”N iehaus wouldn’t elaborate on specifics of the “threatening” lobbying tactics.
Niehaus said he has strong support within the caucus, and Faber said this week he would not go along with a discharge petition.
When Niehaus announced the move to his caucus yesterday, members reportedly applauded him for his leadership on the issue and push to focus on other matters.
“This was an effort on my part to fulfill my responsibility as the leader of the caucus to protect my members and say this was my decision,” Niehaus said.
Niehaus said he was glad that Faith2Action and Ohio Right to Life worked out a compromise on the bill. But he said the final changes of the bill, dropped off to him on Tuesday, came too late.
As it passed the House last year, the bill would have banned all abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, generally within the first eight weeks of a pregnancy.
But the most-recent version of the bill — crafted as Faith2Action and Ohio Right to Life attempted to work out their differences on the original bill — would create a unique two-tier approach, where it would start as a near-total abortion ban, with exceptions for rape and incest, but if the federal courts struck that down, it would revert to a heartbeat ban.
“I’m not an attorney, but I’m told there are some legal problems with that process,” Niehaus said.
The bill can be brought up again next year.