Janet Folger Porter. Photo: The Columbus Dispatch via AP. Janet Folger Porter. Photo: The Columbus Dispatch via AP.

 

The six-week abortion bans passed in seven states may well be traced to one woman in Ohio.

Janet Porter, 56, is an author, radio talk show host and founder of a network of organizations called Faith2Action. The group identifies itself the “birthplace of the heartbeat bill” and Porter as the author. The stated mission is to “win the cultural war for life, liberty and the family.”

The group’s website includes a 17-page list of resource groups that oppose not only abortion but same-sex marriage, gun control and climate change science. Porter’s bio says she’s a Cleveland State University graduate with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in communications. Supporters quoted there call Porter “America’s liveliest pro-life champion” and “the adrenaline in the body of Christ.” An opponent calls her “one of the best public speakers I’ve ever seen.”

 

Porter said Wednesday she became an anti-abortion activist when she was in the 10th grade at her suburban Cleveland high school. She heard two opposing speakers. The one that moved her showed a picture of what he said were “babies in a Hefty bag” from an abortion clinic, she said. The image stayed with her. As a teen she began attending anti-abortion events. “I dragged my mother along,” she recalled. “I was the shy kid, but saving babies mattered more than my fear of public speaking.”

She eventually became legislative director of Ohio Right to Life, successfully lobbying for restrictions—including waiting periods, parental consent and a ban on late term procedures. Then she began thinking about using another powerful visual image—a heartbeat.

Porter’s home state was the first to introduce a “heartbeat bill” in 2011. It finally passed in Ohio this year. She is pictured kneeling in prayer after the vote, blonde curls spilling over folded hands, bended knees on the floor – wearing the same red and black floral print dress from photos taken beside the bill’s supporters. One of those, Rep. Ron Hood, is quoted in a Cleveland Plain Dealer report expressing the same aspiration for the bill as sponsors in the other states.

“Will there be a lawsuit? Yeah, we’re counting on it,” Hood is quoted saying on Cleveland.com. “We’re excited about it. Because this will be the law that ultimately reverses Roe v. Wade.”

The “model bill” is available for all on the Faith2Action website. It’s an abortion ban based on the point where a doctor can detect “cardiac activity” in an embryo – about six weeks of pregnancy, or two weeks after a missed period for women with a regular cycle. The 10-page bill starts with “Be it enacted by the general assembly of the state of __________.”

That blank has now been filled in by 26 states where the bill has been introduced, according to Faith2Action. Seven states have passed the bill. The first two were Arkansas and North Dakota in 2013. Iowa came next in 2018. Those have all already been blocked by the courts. Four more passed the bill this year: Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia.

The renewed energy for the bills in 2019 can be traced to one man: Brett Kavanaugh. Proponents believe the newest U.S. Supreme Court justice tips the scales in their favor toward a conservative majority that move away from the 1973 landmark case that determined women have the right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy until the point of viability – meaning until the fetus could survive with medical help if it were born premature.

Out of a two-page question and answer section on the Faith2Action website, this sentence alone stands out highlighted in yellow: “With the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh, experts agree we now have the votes to uphold the heartbeat bill on the United States Supreme Court.” The answer goes on to say that “even more pro-life judges will likely be appointed” to the Supreme Court “in the next two years.”

The states have added to and subtracted from Porter’s model legislation, but they have all called their abortion bans “heartbeat bills.” The Alabama Senate just passed a bill that goes further—banning all abortions.

Porter’s version of the bill provides for criminal prosecution of doctors or medical professionals for carrying out an abortion, but not for the woman.

Cornell Law Professor Sherry Colb, who writes about sexual equality, has compared the new abortion bans to treating a woman and her fetus as equal cohabitants of a lifeboat. “Each is as entitled to life as the other” under the new laws, Colb said—even if one is smaller than a blueberry inside the other’s body.

“The conduct of third parties creating their joint predicament (rape) is legally irrelevant,” Colb said in describing the effect of the bans. “One lifeboat occupant may not lawfully throw the other overboard even if doing so will help preserve the life of the first by preventing the vessel from sinking.”

Porter’s bill includes an exception for medical emergencies threatening the life of the woman. Georgia and Alabama included that exception as well. The professor said leaving room for abortion when the life or health of the woman is at risk “exposes the ambivalence” of even the supporters of the bills about giving an embryo all the rights of a separate human being.

One person who doesn’t show ambivalence? Janet Porter. She’s planning her victory party on May 31.