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Ohio 'heartbeat' bill restricting abortion re-emerges, is OK'd by state House committee

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — A bill that would impose some of the nation's most stringent abortion restrictions cleared an Ohio House committee Thursday after suddenly re-surfacing in the lame duck session.

The GOP-led House Health Committee passed the so-called heartbeat bill 11-6 after several emotional hours of testimony. The divisive measure had languished without a hearing since it was introduced more than a year ago. A nearly identical bill cleared the House in 2011 but was stopped in the state Senate.

The legislation would restrict most abortions at the first detectable fetal heartbeat, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

Before the vote, abortion rights advocates attacked the measure as unnecessary, dangerous and misogynist, and the American Civil Liberties Union warned it would draw an immediate, costly legal challenge if passed.

Meanwhile, passionate proponents called abortion murder and defended their right as public servants to protect human life.

Chairman Lynn Wachtmann, a Republican from Napoleon, allowed questioning to stray into witnesses' beliefs on when life begins and whether one witness had children of his own. He then repeatedly gaveled discussion out of order.

At one point, Rep. Nickie Antonio, a Lakewood Democrat, led a collective deep breath in the packed room charged with emotion.

Women delivered heart-wrenching testimony on both sides of the debate.

One woman brought gifts for committee members from her young daughter, Isabella, conceived when the mother was raped as a 17-year-old high school student.

Another recounted roadblocks she faced in ending a pregnancy after the fetus was determined to be unviable and she'd decided on an abortion in consultation with her doctors, family and rabbi.

The heartbeat bill has fiercely divided Ohio's anti-abortion community, with some fearing a court challenge could undo other abortion restrictions already in place. It is not supported by Ohio Right to Life, the state's largest and oldest anti-abortion group.

Supporters hope the bill would provoke a legal challenge with the potential to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

Similar measures have been challenged in other states.

Ohio supporters of the bill say different federal court judges have different opinions, as has been the case with gay-marriage bans.

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