Janet Folger Porter, the woman driving the ‘heartbeat bill’ fight in Ohio, talks to Michelle Cottle.
Even the everlasting battle for America’s soul has its hot trends. And these days, among anti-abortion-rights activists, “heartbeat bills” are all the rage. In early March, Arkansas outlawed most abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy, at which point a fetal heartbeat typically can be detected by abdominal ultrasound. Passed over the veto of Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, the Human Heartbeat Protection Act stood as the nation’s most restrictive ban for not quite two weeks, at which point North Dakota passed an even more stringent heartbeat bill that could block abortions starting at around six weeks. Lawmakers in Mississippi and Kansas have taken steps down a similar path, while those in various other states—Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma—reportedly have expressed interest as well. Most dramatically, the Ohio legislature, where the first such bill surfaced in 2011, has been locked in a bloody battle over the issue for more than two years. Meanwhile, conservative pols from Rick Perry to Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann to Newt Gingrich are lining up in support of such efforts.
At the center of this whirlwind stands Janet Folger Porter. A former legislative director of Ohio Right to Life, Porter is in many ways the godmother of the heartbeat movement. The inspiration for the crusade struck her in November 2010, at the funeral of her old boss from Right to Life, recalls Porter. “I was overwhelmed by the revelation that we don’t have much time on planet Earth. I thought, ‘We’ve got to end this, and we need to end it now.’” Porter immediately (yes, right there at the funeral) began rallying anti-abortion-rights colleagues, and before long she’d assembled a team of attorneys to craft a bill.