COLUMBUS, Ohio — The anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life is seeking a new executive director after a tumultuous year of feuding inside the anti-abortion community.
In a statement Thursday, board chairman Marshal Pitchford said the opening follows a decision to elevate current director Mike Gonidakis into a new role. Gonidakis will be the group's point person on national issues, oversee its political action committee and advise staff members on state legislative matters.
Pitchford characterized the move as "strategic restructuring" of the state's oldest and largest anti-abortion group.
"Due to the historic success we realized in 2011 and the unexpected growth of Ohio Right to Life, we have determined that elevating Mike Gonidakis' position while engaging an additional pro-life advocate will best position our efforts to protect mothers and save the unborn," his statement said.
Gonidakis' leadership has been criticized by some anti-abortion activists who have defected from Right to Life this year and have joined forces with a rival coalition backing a bill banning most abortions at the first detectable fetal heartbeat.
Some of those who disaffiliated linked their decisions to Ohio Right to Life's decision to remain neutral on the so-called Heartbeat Bill out of concern that it was unconstitutional. Among those who defected was Jack Willke, a Cincinnati physician who helped start Ohio Right to Life and launch the national movement against abortion.
Ohio Right to Life countered the defections with announcements of the formation of several new county chapters of its own organization.
Despite an unusually intensive lobbying effort that featured balloon deliveries, prayer meetings and Statehouse flyovers, the Heartbeat Bill stalled in the state Senate before the holiday break.
Gonidakis said Thursday he was excited about his new role. He said it represents a promotion, not any type of discipline.
Ohio Right to Life is leading a 50-state effort to pass state legislation requiring pregnant women to view or listen to the fetal heartbeats before consenting to abortions, which will be among Gonidakis' new advocacy priorities.
Promoters of the 50-state effort say the measure stops short of protecting the unborn through abortion restrictions, but Right to Life has countered the measure has a better chance of withstanding a court challenge.
Gonidakis said he also will be working to keep the abortion issue in the public eye during next year's presidential election.
Abortion rights groups oppose both heartbeat bills as too restrictive on women's rights to make their own health decisions.