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.
State Rep. Lynn Wachtmann introduced the legislation in early 2011, and since then, Porter and her now 10-year-old activist group, Faith2Action, or F2A, have fought to keep the heat on Ohio legislators, declaring open season on unsupportive Republicans in the state Senate and employing theatrical stunts such as sending heart-shaped balloons to legislators’ offices and having a fetus “testify” via ultrasound pic before the House health committee. Along the way, F2A has become a clearinghouse for info on the heartbeat crusade, and Porter has become a point person for lawmakers in other states looking to jump on the bandwagon. (In late March, for instance, she testified before a Kansas House committee on the issue.) If you have strong feelings—in either direction—about the growing push to stop tinkering around the edges of abortion law and start banning the procedure en masse, Porter is a gal you really should get to know.
While ending abortion is Porter’s self-professed passion—“My heart beats for life!” she tells me—it is far from the only culture front on which she fights. Operating from a strict biblical perspective, she speaks out against everything from climate-change legislation to Common Core education standards to immigration reform to Obamacare. (Her daily 60-second commentaries can be heard on multiple radio networks and at F2A.org.) Indeed, pretty much everything President Obama does qualifies as illegitimate in Porter’s eyes. She is an unapologetic birther, who, as a contributor to WorldNetDaily, wrote a 2008 column under the headline “You Cannot Be a Christian and Vote for Obama.”
With a master’s degree in communication and a flair for the dramatic, Porter has long known how to grab the public’s attention. Back in the late ’90s, Ralph Reed dubbed her an “issue entrepreneur.” “Some entrepreneurs try to figure out what the new hot stocks are,” he told The New York Times. “Janet is an ideological entrepreneur, someone who tries to pick the hot new issues.”
That is not to suggest that Porter’s values battles are in any way insincere. Do not, for instance, get her started on the horrors of the “radical homosexual agenda.” Porter’s heart may “beat for life,” but her blood boils at what she sees as the LGBT assault not just on traditional marriage but on religious freedom. Her voice grows excited and her words tumble out faster and faster as she argues the moral, social, and biological wrongness of homosexuality, dismisses the notion that it is innate (her trump card: if NBA player Jason Collins was born gay, then why wasn’t his identical twin?), and fires off examples of people who have landed in hot water for refusing to “bow to the homosexual agenda.” Gays aren’t looking for equality, charges Porter. “They want affirmation, and they will stop at nothing to get it.”
Indeed, the coming LGBT tyranny is a long-standing bugaboo for Porter. From 1997 to 2002, she ran the Center for Reclaiming America, an outgrowth of the Coral Ridge Ministries empire erected by the now-deceased Rev. D. James Kennedy. Among the center’s most prominent projects was “Truth in Love,” a nationwide ad campaign promoting gay-conversion therapy through the testimony of “ex-gays” and accusations that pro-gay forces were trying to stymie discussion. The campaign was short-lived, but Porter stuck with the theme. Her 2005 book, The Criminalization of Christianity, warns of the accelerating persecution of those who refuse to embrace things like pornography and homosexuality.
The recent and dramatic cultural shift on gay marriage has done nothing to soften Porter’s fighting stance. Quite the opposite. F2A’s site is thick with warnings about the gayification of the Boy Scouts, denunciations of the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, and even a cheeky video, “Heather Has Two Cigarettes,” promoting the idea that homosexuality is vastly more dangerous than smoking. So fired up is Porter that, for the past six months, she has put her anti-abortion-rights efforts on the back burner to film a documentary on the dark fate that awaits Christians “if homosexual activists achieve their goal.” Early clips are available on F2A’s site, and Porter hopes to have at least a rough cut to show at the Values Voters Summit come October.
Porter’s unwillingness to trim her sails makes even fellow conservatives nervous at times. In 2010, for instance, the VCY network of Christian radio stations announced it was dropping Porter’s program because of her growing flirtation with dominion theology, which basically calls on Christians to take control of secular institutions in preparation for the return of Jesus. (Porter rejects the dominionist label.)
Similarly, many in the anti-abortion-rights movement—including, ironically, the current crew at Ohio Right to Life—do not support Porter’s heartbeat crusade for fear that the bills will spark legal challenges that could endanger more incremental gains for the cause. Following the passage of Arkansas’s new law, James Bopp Jr., general counsel for National Right to Life, fretted to The New York Times, “As much as we would like to protect the unborn at that point, it is futile and it won’t save any babies.”
For Porter, however, a court challenge is the goal, with an eye toward going all the way to the Supremes. Of the Ohio bill, she crows, “It was drafted with swing vote Justice Kennedy in mind.” Nor has the failure of her state’s legislature to pass heartbeat legislation thus far dampened her spirits. “After three years, it’s a better bill now,” she says, adding, “If someone is interested in a heartbeat bill, please call me and we will get you a copy.”
As for all the timid, mealy-mouthed incrementalists, Porter has only contempt for that kind of thinking. “It’s time to quit begging for crumbs,” she says. Whether the issue is abortion or gay marriage or the illegitimacy of the current president, there is not time enough to play it safe. Borrowing from the Book of James, she observes, “Life is but a vapor.”