COLUMBUS — One of the nation's fiercest advocates for banning abortions at the first detectable heartbeat was missing when Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill into Ohio law.
Legislative leaders, bill sponsors, pastors, pregnancy center operators and members of Ohio Right to Life — the state's leading anti-abortion group — attended Thursday's bill signing.
Absent was anti-abortion activist Janet Folger Porter, founder and president of Faith2Action, the group she used to originate and champion the heartbeat legislation for a decade.
"Being disinvited to the bill signing by the governor, it stung. But I'm keeping my eye on the big picture," Porter said. "And the whole point of the last 10 years of my life was to bring the killing to an end."
DeWine invited nearly 30 others into the room for the signing — and used and handed out nearly as many souvenir pens. At a distance from what should have been her crowning moment, Porter declared "VICTORY!" in one of her signature hyperbolic emails.
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney declined to directly address why Porter wasn't there.
Some say the Faith2Action founder and president should not have been surprised.
For years, Porter has been a polarizing figure. She alienated plenty of ruling Republicans with her lobbying stunts, controversial positions and even a candidacy to unseat the Ohio Senate's GOP president.
Porter crowded lawmaker's offices with heart-shaped balloons and teddy bears, staged Statehouse demonstrations and flyovers and arranged "testimony" via ultrasound by an in utero fetus and appearances by grown "abortion survivors." Porter also questions Barack Obama's citizenship and more recently served as spokeswoman for Senate candidate Roy Moore as he faced pedophile allegations.
All that helps explain why DeWine and other more moderate Republicans would want to steer clear, said Case Western Reserve University law professor Jessie Hill.
"Maybe it's an attempt to make this look like a mainstream piece of legislation," Hill said. "But I don't think they're fooling anybody. It's still pretty much the most extreme law anywhere on the books, or as extreme, as anywhere in the country."
Mike Gonidakis is president of Ohio Right to Life, where Porter once served as a legislative director. He said his organization had always said the heartbeat bill was "the right bill at the wrong time." And the time is now right.
Asked about Porter's absence from the bill-signing, Gonidakis said the appropriate people were invited "bar none."
"I would say that the right people were in the room," he said. "It was to thank the governor and to celebrate a huge pro-life victory. It was a very diverse group, from pregnancy centers to local groups to pastors to legislative officials. I think it was a great cross-section of those who support life in the state of Ohio."
The organization remained neutral on the heartbeat bill for the past 10 years, standing by former Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, as he vetoed it twice. Kasich argued it would prompt an expensive, and ultimately unwinnable, constitutional challenge to the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling legalizing abortion.
The group changed its stance to support in a Dec. 27 statement, as Kasich was leaving office and Brett Kavanaugh was ascending to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Porter said Ohio Right to Life's presence in the room was an affront, noting the group finally came out in support of the legislation only when it was clear it would pass.
Porter's chief rival at NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, executive director Kellie Copeland, asserted that Porter's gender adds an ironic twist to being left off DeWine's guest list.
"As a woman who espouses policy that says no woman should have bodily autonomy, when you get iced out by your old-white-man partners in that endeavor, if she was surprised by that treatment, she shouldn't be," Copeland said.
Non-whites, and women other than Porter, were present for the signing.
Porter said she can live with being shunned.
"I mean, we passed the strongest bill possible after 10 years of waiting and we're going to protect babies whose heartbeats can be heard," she said. "I couldn't be more happy about that."
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