By JewsOnFirst.org, July 6, 2006
Links to documents, hearing testimony, reports and websites cited in this report, immediately follow it.
An Ohio legislative committee heard testimony last month on a measure that, if passed, would certainly be the nation's most extreme ban on abortion. The bill has no exception for saving a pregnant woman's life.
Ohio House Bill 228 criminalizes abortion, making it a major felony for providers. The bill deems an embryo a human being from the moment of conception.
Without an exception to save a woman's life, H. B. 228 subordinates women, their health, their responsibility to their existing children and dependent parents, to a small mass of cells. One witness, Denise Mackura of Ohio Right to Life, described the bill's intent succinctly: "abortion should not be legal unless it is the indirect result of saving the woman's life."
The bill also makes it a crime to help or encourage a woman to leave the state to have an abortion -- essentially making women, rape and incest victims among them, prisoners of and brood moms for the state of Ohio.
Rabbi Barnett Brickner of Columbus testified before the committee that the bill would hinder his ability to counsel women grappling with the dilemma of having an unwanted baby or breaking the law, the Cleveland Jewish News reported.
The bill deprives a woman "of the fundamental respect of her right to privacy and her right to make her own medical decisions," Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, told JewsOnFirst.
It would also imperil women's health, stated Dr. Paula Hillard, an obstetrician-gynecologist and professor of medicine, in testimony submitted on behalf of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health to the Ohio House Health Committee, which held a hearing on the bill June 13th. "A doctor who intentionally performs an abortion, even to save a patient's life, will be liable for terminating the pregnancy," stated Hillard.
H.B. 228 exempts from prosecution health care professionals who unintentionally destroy a fetus in an attempt to save a woman's life. That exemption does not extend to preventing health problems.
Sponsor aims at Roe v. Wade
The bill's author, Rep. Tom Brinkman, Jr., portrayed the bill in his testimony as a judicial strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade. "He wanted to have a test case," said Marilyn Karfeld, senior reporter for the Cleveland Jewish News, who covered the hearing.
Anti-choice organizations are already at odds over whether South Dakota's less extreme bill (it allows abortion to save the woman's life, but not in cases of rape or incest) is too harsh for the Supreme Court to use as a vehicle for overturning Roe v. Wade.
"There are questions about the bill's political viability," Kellie Copeland of NARAL Pro-Choice, told JewsOnFirst. It was introduced in April 2005 and Brinkman "worked to get a hearing for it," she said.
Republican leaders in the legislature have stated that the bill is going nowhere beyond the hearing held last month, according to both Karfeld and Copeland. Nonetheless, opponents worry that the outcome of the November election could propel the bill into law.
"Many people didn't take it seriously. But we at NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio did," Copeland said. While she does not believe the bill currently has the votes to pass, there is fear that if the Democratic candidate for governor wins in November, the lame duck Republican government will resurrect the bill.
Mobilizing the religious-right base
The Republican candidate, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, is closely identified with two religious right leaders, pastors Russell Johnson and Rod Parsley, who are credited with turning out Ohio's religious right vote for George Bush in 2004. (Johnson's controversial testimony at the hearing is quoted below.)
Marilyn Karfeld of the Jewish News noted that, in addition to voting for Bush in 2004, Ohio has chosen Repubicans to control the state government for a decade. With the races for govenor and senator hotly contested, she said, H.B. 228 is "another way to mobilize the [religious right] base." She attributed the large crowd that turned out for the hearing to its political nature.
Copeland of NARAL Pro-Choice called the hearing "unusual," saying that the committee gave H.B. 228 proponents more opportunities to testify than they did opponents of the bill. "Over 60 pro-choice witnesses were turned away," said Copeland.
Opponents' unspoken testimony
Their unspoken testimony, submitted in writing, is eloquent. Barbara Avery, director of the Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice denounced the bill as "immoral, [infringing] on the religious liberty of all Ohioans." She reminded the committee that, before abortion was legal, "entire floors of big city hospitals were reserved for women recovering from botched abortions, most of them self-inflicted."
Avery also argues that the bill is unconstitutional in its interference with the "long-established constitutional right to travel and the right to freedom of speech."
Conservative Rabbi Michael Ungar stated that
Judaism is on the whole, "pro-life," meaning that the saving of a life has precedence over virtually ever commandment in the Torah. The Jewish definition of life is from the time thata baby takes its first breath until circulation and respiration cease. The protection of a fetus was considered important for its potential for life, but the sages consistently affirmed the precedence of the life and health of the mother over that of an unborn child.
Rabbi Brickner, and the Ohio Religious Coalition for Choice, of which he is a member, emphasize that H.B. 228 curtails the religious freedom of all those whose faith traditions differ from the conservative Christian values reflected in the bill. Brickner testified that H.B. 228 "threatens the very principle of freedom of religious expression on which this country is built," according to the Cleveland Jewish News.
Supporters of the bill, including physicians and counselors at pregnancy "crisis" clinics testified about the development of the fetus, about women who regretted having abortions, about the purported dangers of the procedure, about how it did not comport with their moral and religious beliefs and about its purported deleterious effect on the economy. Several cited Mother Theresa.
Pastor Russell Johnson testifies
Russell Johnson, the pastor who heads the Ohio Restoration Project, testified that "The Supreme Court was wrong in 1857 with Dredd Scott and the Supreme Court was wrong in 1973 with Roe v. Wade." Then Johnson said:
Today the world is aghast at the horrors of the holocaust wheremillions of innocent Jewish boys and girls were slaughtered on the altar of anti-Semitic bigotry. In holocaust museums around the world pictures give empirical evidence of the destruction of entire families. It's remarkable that in the streets of Auschwitz, Dachau, and Treblinka millions of fine upstanding German citizens learned to live under the cloud of multitudes of Jewish people being exterminated.
One German citizen told of how he sat in his congregation on Sunday mornings as the trains went close by their worship services. As trainloads of people went by, they cried out for help. The cries became so disruptive that the church pianist was instructed that when she heard the railroad tracks begin to rattle, she was to go to the piano which was to signal to the pastor, even in mid sermon, that the congregation was going to stand and sing. This way the German people didn't have to listen to the cries of the innocent.
Today we can't sing enough songs in American churches to silence the cries of the unborn who deserve our protection and help. Mother Theresa made it very clear that America will be judged by how we treat our most vulnerable citizens, the innocent unborn. In 1973, America witnessed Roe Vs Wade where some well meaning justices threated the Constitution like a legal Rorschach blot and created abortion laws out of thin air. I find it remarkable that since 1973, America's growing culture of death has seen more children in shallow graves than any page in American history. It should also be noted that since 1973 when Roe V Wade legalized the killing of unborn children, we now have more children killing parents than any page in human history.
Rabbi Brickner said during the hearing that he was offended by Johnson’s linking the Holocaust to abortion, calling it “theologically shallow and morally reprehensible,” according to the Jewish News.
After the hearing, he told the paper that lawmakers must hear from other religious perspectives. “Because the religious right’s voice has entered into the public arena, we need to also make sure the religious voice for choice is also able to stand up against that kind of bullying.""