Why are Ohio Right to Life and its Executive Director, Mike Gonidakis,  publicly opposing the Ohio pro-life Heartbeat Bill?

HB 125, also called the Heartbeat Bill, was sponsored by Rep. Lynn Watchmann (R-Napoleon) and co-sponsored by 49 Ohio House members, enough for passage.  It requires that prior to performing an abortion, the provider must ascertain if there is a fetal heartbeat and inform the mother of the results.  If a fetal heartbeat is detected, an abortion would be illegal.  A doctor performing an abortion on a baby with a detectable heartbeat could be charged with a 5th degree felony. The mother would not be subject to criminal or civil charges.  The text of the bill says:

“Except as provided in division (E)(2) or (3) of this section, no person shall knowingly perform an abortion on a pregnant woman with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of the unborn human individual that the pregnant woman is carrying and whose fetal heartbeat has been detected…”

There are exceptions for the life or health of the mother and the bill specifies that it does not apply to contraceptives.  Janet Folger Porter from Faith2Action explained it this way:

We don’t bury people with beating hearts, because the heartbeat is a sign of life. We are just applying that same measurement to this end of life and I believe the court is going to recognize — just like it does with life at the other end of the spectrum — it’s going to recognize this line of life early on.”

On Wednesday, March 2nd, two in-utero babies had the opportunity to “testify” before the House Health Committee.  Two pregnant mothers were given ultrasounds in the committee room and the lawmakers were able to see and hear the fetal heartbeats.  TV 10 News reports:

“The heartbeat of a fetus at 15 weeks gestation was easily detected. The heartbeat in a fetus of nine weeks gestation was difficult to detect. The images were broadcast on a screen and a little flashing dot was identified as the beating heart. Aside from seeing the heart beating, committee members could also hear it, Strickler reported.

“Supporters said this is the best way to show people who will be affected by the legislation. “A child is a child at conception,” said mother Erin Glockner. “They have a right to live.  Whether a parent wants to keep it for themselves or give it to another family, people want kids, and babies who can’t speak for themselves before they’re born deserve a chance.”

Most pro-life activists are energized and excited by this bold attempt to take a stand against Roe v Wade. Lori Viars, director of Family First PAC, and vice president of Warren County Right to Life, said,

“There is excitement across the heartland for Ohio’s new Heartbeat Bill! It is invigorating our troops who can’t wait to take this giant leap toward protecting unborn babies from abortion!”

However,  pro-life Ohioans are baffled by statements from Mike Gonidakis,  Executive Director of Ohio Right to Life, which are more in step with NARAL than the pro-life community.  Gonidakis has said,

The heartbeat bill will not save any babies’ lives because it will not be upheld in court. The court has said there can be no bans on pre-viability abortions.”


“Unfortunately, the court has ruled that states can place limitations on post-viability abortions, but pre-viability there can be zero restrictions. We certainly don’t want the courts to reaffirm Roe with a decision in Ohio.”

He also told The Dispatch that,

“We need to focus on laws where we can save lives now. We can pound the table and complain, but we have to work with what we have.”

Dr. Jack Willke, pro-life stalwart, President of International Right to Life, and board member of Ohio Right to Life disagrees:

“While I used to believe there was a danger of reaffirming Roe v. Wade by passing such a protective bill, after 38 years of abortion on demand, I no longer believe that would be the result. Whether Roe is affirmed or not, the results are the same: Unborn babies are killed for any reason virtually any time until their birth. We must not wait any longer to protect babies in our state.

We have seen Ohio lead before when we passed the nation’s first partial-birth abortion ban in 1995. While it was struck down by the court initially, Congress and 30 states followed – and while the U.S. Supreme Court said no (to a Nebraska partial-birth abortion ban) in 2000, seven years later they finally upheld the … ban passed by Congress. Ohio can see history repeat and lead the way. I strongly encourage you to lend your leadership and support to the Heartbeat Bill.”

So why do Mike Gonidakis and Ohio Right to Life think this is not a battle worth waging? He told the Dispatch that he wants to focus his energies on other bills, including one that would ban late-term abortions, which could save 700 babies a year.  A fine and noble goal.  But according to the Guttenmacher Institute, there were 33,550 abortions in Ohio 2008 alone!  33,000 babies killed in this state! That’s equivalent to the loss of human life on 911 happening every single month – month after month, after month.  700 is a start, but we need to think big, to do the hard things.  The appeals process, as Dr. Willke noted above, can take years.  The makeup of the Supreme Court can change in the blink of an eye.  Gonidakis’ unwillingness to take on this issue – indeed, his appearance of siding with the opposition – calls into question his leadership at Ohio Right to Life.

Ohio Right to Life has a long, respectable history in Ohio, with many notable accomplishments. In recent years, they have seemed to put political expediency above principal.  Their endorsement of candidates before the primaries last year smacked of political favoritism rather than a true effort to identify genuine pro-life candidates.  I was told by Gonidakis that their policy is to endorse “the most pro-life candidate they think can win” and money is a part of the formula they use to identify winners.  This policy leads voters to believe (often falsely) that other candidates are less pro-life or perhaps not pro-life at all. It’s misleading and perhaps even deceptive.

Winning is great. We all want to win, especially when babies’ lives are on the line. But does it have to be either winning or doing what’s right?  Does it have to be either/or? How about both/and?  I’m having a hard time finding a reason to support and trust an organization that appears to put winning above all else and seems more focused on building political power bases than solving the abortion crisis.