Taking a page from Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", anti-abortion forces from Ohio enlisted 50 school-age children on Tuesday and an equal number of slightly creepy teddy bears in their effort to convince the state Senate to pass a so-called fetal heartbeat bill. The bears, advocates said, played a short audio clip of a supposed 18-week-old fetus' heart when pressed.

The bill in question would criminalize all abortions after the fetal heartbeat is detected by doctors, which detractors say can happen as early as 6 weeks into a pregnancy. Gary Dougherty, of the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio, told Raw Story that the bill would criminalize abortion "most often before a woman even knows she's pregnant," which he called "tantamount to a wholesale ban on abortion." Despite the standards laid down by the Supreme Court, the bill only contains an exception for the life of the mother, not her health or the life or health of the fetus. It furthermore contains no exemptions for victims of rape or incest who become pregnant.

Dougherty noted that the teddy bear press conference wasn't the first atypical protest the bill's supporters had staged. "The groups that are behind this are really into theatrics to make their point," he said, noting that they'd already delivered hundreds of heart-shaped balloons and cookies to legislators and even rented a plane to fly a banner around the state capital in December.

But their stunts have its downside: Dougherty noted that "we're dealing with a very serious issues that should rise above theatrics," a point echoed by his colleague Gabriel Mann. "This is a serious issue," Mann said, "and for the women the bill will affect, a serious decision" that shouldn't be minimized with toys and balloons.

For Mann, Dougherty and other observers, the part of yesterday's protest wasn't the teddy bears with the beating hearts, but the use of children to convey their message. "If anything was inappropriate," Mann said, "it was them using 40 to 50 children to deliver the bears, the use of children as props." Dougherty, who noted that his kids spent the day in school, agreed. "We really shouldn't use our kids as props," he stated, nothing that "Those 50 kids came to the state house at the urging of their parents, and many of them didn't know what was going on because they were 4 or 5 years old."

Mann added, "I wouldn't expect a woman making a decision to have an abortion should consult an 8-year-old."

Pro-choice advocates have lobbied the mostly anti-abortion legislature by noting that the legislation is likely unconstitutional and will almost certainly be challenged in court. Such a court challenge would be expensive for a state whose governor proposed $8 billion in spending cuts last year. Nonetheless, Dougherty said the bill may well pass.

The fetal heartbeat legislation was first introduced last year in the House. Despite hearings that featured a "fetus testifying" by virtue of two live sonograms performed in the hearing room, its passage was delayed until June 2011 and the Senate put the bill on hold in December.

Watch one of 4 videos from the press conference, first uploaded by the Ohio Capital Blog on January 10, 2012, below, then go to their site to watch three more videos.

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