COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A powerful Ohio Senate committee on Thursday shut down an effort to force a vote on legislation that would impose the most stringent abortion restriction in the nation.
Supporters of the so-called "heartbeat bill" vowed to unblock it with a discharge petition but were outmaneuvered when the Senate rules committee voted unanimously to refer the bill to itself. Under Senate rules, the bill must remain in the committee for 30 days -- more time than remains in this legislative session.
Senate President Tom Niehaus, a New Richmond Republican, decided Tuesday to halt the bill by not scheduling it for a vote. He cited lingering constitutional concerns with the proposal, which would ban most abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat, as early as six week into pregnancy.
Backers had hoped such a restriction would spark a legal challenge that could lead to overturning the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion up until viability, which is closer to 22 weeks after conception.
Before Thursday's vote was taken, Niehaus removed two of the committee's Republican members -- Sens. Keith Faber and Shannon Jones.
Faber was elected Wednesday to succeed Niehaus as Senate president in the next General Assembly, which begins Jan. 7. Both he and Jones had supported the heartbeat measure, though Faber indicated he would not defy Niehaus' wishes.
In a statement, Niehaus said pressure from backers to gather 17 signatures on a discharge petition -- enough to move the bill out of committee -- prompted Thursday's action.
"Unfortunately, certain proponents of the bill continue to bully members of my caucus into bypassing the committee process and bringing it directly to the Senate floor for a vote," he said. "This move would effectively shut down all public input and hearing on a bill that has been changed multiple times without a single hearing on its newly proposed content."
Ohio House Health Chairman Lynn Wachtmann, a key proponent of the bill, had worked over the summer to strike a compromise within Ohio's anti-abortion community, which was fiercely divided over the bill.
Wachtmann said he succeeded in doing that and Niehaus went back on his word by rejecting the compromise. The agreement included a complete statewide abortion ban with narrow exceptions for rape and incest.
Asked Wednesday if Niehaus had suggested he would move the bill once the compromise was presented, Wachtmann said, "It was more than a suggestion."
Niehaus said he made no such promise, and saw a forced vote as anti-democratic.
"A discharge petition to force a vote on such a controversial and potentially unconstitutional new law would completely defy the due process of the legislature," he said in the statement.
Niehaus departs the Legislature at year's end due to term limits. He said most abortion foes in the state understand his decision.
"I will not allow the divisive tactics of a few radicals to distract from the important work we need to do in the remaining days of this General Assembly," he said.