Janet Porter: The Architect of Ohio’s ‘Heartbeat’ Bills

Janet Porter knew that to get her near-total abortion ban to the U.S. Supreme Court, she first had to get it passed in Ohio.

[Photo: Anti-choice activist Janet Porter speaking at a podium.]
As the former legislative director of Ohio Right to Life, Porter has a lengthy history within the anti-choice movement. Faith2Action/YouTube

She may not be a household name, but you’ve undoubtedly heard of her handiwork. Anti-choice activist Janet Porter has spent years pushing her “heartbeat” legislation, which would outlaw abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy—before many even know they are pregnant.

Porter’s push is again gaining momentum in the waning days of Ohio’s legislative session. Its latest iteration, HB 258, was approved by Republicans in the state house in November and passed by an 18-13 vote in the state senate last week. Though Republican Gov. John Kasich vetoed a similar measure in 2016, even if he does so again, there may be enough votes for lawmakers to override it. If not, the anti-choice restriction will see a friendlier ally next time around in incoming-Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who has promised to sign such legislation.

Porter is the president and founder of anti-choice group Faith2Action, which claims on its website to be “the nation’s largest network of pro-family groups.” Before founding the organization, she was the national director of the Center for Reclaiming America from 1997 to 2002, according to a biography of Porter provided on her organization’s website. As the Daily Beast reported in a July 2013 feature on Porter, “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.”

Faith2Action’s website is home to anti-LGBTQ sentiment. Under its section on so-called liberty is a 16-page document detailing what it deems to be the “dangers of homosexuality.” Another section outlines biblical quotes against “homosexuality.”

Porter has taken to conservative websites and her own radio program to voice her views on the matter, as has been extensively documented by People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch. According to a blog post from the organization, Porter “has also long warned that increasing acceptance of gay rights will turn Christians into criminals who will eventually be rounded up and tossed in jail, going so far as to try and prevent the Supreme Court from ruling on the issue of gay marriage. [In 2015,] she produced an anti-gay documentary called ‘Light Wins’ that featured a variety of Republican members of Congress, GOP presidential hopefuls, and anti-gay activists warning that gay activists are ‘grooming’ and endangering children, for which they should be held criminally liable.”

Other bullet points on Porter’s resume include a failed run for the state legislature and losing her radio show with Christian broadcaster VCY America after championing “dominionism,” the belief that Christians should control all institutions, including governmental bodies, and that there should be a return to biblical law. In 2017, during the Alabama special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate, Porter was one of Republican candidate Roy Moore’s most vocal defenders amid accusations of sexual misconduct with young women and girls. In November of that year, Porter convened a press conference of anti-choice extremists who remained loyal to Moore despite the allegations against him. She continued defending Moore throughout the special election and acted as a spokesperson for the campaign during appearances in media outlets like CNN.

As the former legislative director of anti-choice group Ohio Right to Life (ORTL), Porter has a history within the anti-choice movement. Faith2Action’s website states she worked there from 1988 to 1997 and “successfully lobbied for passage of the nation’s first Partial-Birth Abortion Ban.” So it’s no surprise that she later set her sights ending legal abortion.

Porter’s Crusade for a ‘Heartbeat’ Ban

Though these sorts of near-total abortion bans are becoming increasingly common, they first appeared in the Ohio legislature in 2011. Porter, according to the Daily Beast, was one of the measure’s original architects. Speaking to the publication in 2013, she reminisced about how the idea for the legislation came to her during the funeral for her former boss at ORTL.

“I was overwhelmed by the revelation that we don’t have much time on planet Earth,” she said in the interview. “I thought, ‘We’ve got to end this, and we need to end it now.’” During the funeral, she reportedly began to assemble a team to draft the ban.

In 2011, Republican state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann introduced Porter’s measure. From the beginning, its supporters, including Wachtmann, were upfront that it was meant to be a challenge to overturn or dismantle Roe v. Wade. “I’m introducing this bill to get the debate going to see how far we believe we can push the U.S. Supreme Court in upholding as strong a bill as possible, that is saving as many unborn babies as possible,” Wachtmann said, according to the Times Bulletin. “It’s been bandied around by the pro-life community around the country for a number of years, and Mrs. Porter, like myself, is wanting to take a bigger bite out of the proverbial apple, to try to push the agenda more toward a lot less abortion and a lot more life by going with this Heartbeat Bill.”

But to get it to the Supreme Court, Porter first had to get the measure through the state legislature. It’s a task Porter, who had by then founded Faith2Action, took to heart. After the bill was introduced in 2011, her organization sent red heart-shaped balloons to lawmakers to urge them to vote for it. The next month, the group brought pregnant women to a committee hearing and gave them an ultrasound in front of the group.

In January 2012, Faith2Action sent children to deliver to lawmakers teddy bears that made the sound of a heartbeat when squeezed. The next month, they sent 2,000 roses to Ohio state senators on Valentine’s Day as part of what the Daily Record reported was a “weekly push” to get the lawmakers to take up the anti-choice bill after it was passed in the state house the year prior.

“Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus and other members of the chamber’s leadership received 144 flowers each,” the report noted. “Members of the committee considering the legislation received nine dozen.” According to the Columbus Dispatch, the roses came with a note: “Bring this bill to a vote before the roses and babies die.”

“This is the largest rose delivery in Statehouse history,” Porter told the Toledo Blade at the time. “Last year we had the largest balloon delivery in Statehouse history, but helium balloons aren’t allowed in the Senate as it turns out, so we had a delivery of red roses.”

Versions of Porter’s “heartbeat” bill would continue to be proposed and ultimately fail in the proceeding years. Porter continued to take extreme measures to get it passed. In November 2015, the group sent activists to picket the homes of state lawmakers in hopes of getting the legislation a vote.  In 2016, another version, HB 493, cleared the legislature. Porter attributed “divine intervention” to its passage, but the measure was vetoed by the governor.

The next year, Porter made her way to Washington, D.C., where she worked with Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to introduce the U.S. Congress’ first-ever heartbeat ban in January 2017. As Right Wing Watch reported at the time, Porter said she had first spoken with King about the bill at Phyllis Schlafly’s funeral. “I gave him a packet and he has agreed to introduce a federal Heartbeat Bill, which would protect every baby whose heartbeat can be detected,” she said. “That will actually end abortion in nearly every case. Ninety to 95 percent of the abortions will be ended with that bill.” Porter also claimed she had spoken with Vice President Pence about the measure and that “he seemed very agreeable to that.”

Though King’s measure never got a vote in the GOP-held House, it did get the support of 173 co-sponsors. And later that year, Porter joined former-U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay at the White House to lobby for the total abortion ban.

Now, another version of the ban in Ohio is again awaiting Kasich’s signature or veto. And Porter isn’t staying quiet about how she hopes it will end. “The bill itself is one that we believe the Supreme Court is ready for,” she told NBC News last week.

She noted that the current version of the bill had been “‘crafted in such a way that it actually doesn’t have to bring down’ Roe v. Wade but rather changes what marker that the Supreme Court uses for determining life in unborn babies.”

Porter did not respond to an interview request from Rewire.News.