October 23, 2011
JULIE CARR SMYTH
AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS — A nationwide push to limit access to abortions after a fetus can survive outside the womb moved forward Wednesday in Ohio, where state senators cleared their version of the bill and sent it to Gov. John Kasich.
The Ohio bill requires doctors to test the fetus’ viability before performing abortions after 20 weeks and bans the procedure if there is a positive result. There is no exception in the bill for the health or life of the mother, but it does provide those as legal defenses for a doctor prosecuted for violating the law.
The measure passed the Republican-led Senate by a 22-7 vote, after clearing the Senate Health Committee along party lines earlier in the day.
Right to Life Executive Director Mike Gonidakis said the legislation is part of a national effort to eventually spark a legal challenge that overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion.
“Overturning Roe wouldn’t outlaw abortion, it would just return control over it to the states,” Gonidakis said. “Why shouldn’t a state get to set its own abortion policy? It would be similar to marriage, where states set their own rules.”
Since last year, lawmakers in eight states have advanced similar bills pushing the limits of Roe, said Elizabeth Nash, a public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute. The ruling allows states to limit abortions after a fetus has a viable chance at life, while providing exceptions for the life and health of the mother, she said.
Nash predicted the bill would deter doctors, who risk prosecution for any procedure on a viable fetus, from giving legal abortions.
“I can’t imagine who would want to provide an abortion at that gestation in Ohio,” she said. “This would really have a chilling effect — which gets at what the supporters of bill really want, which is to end all abortions.”
Five states — Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, and Oklahoma — have enacted bans this year on all abortions after 20 weeks, pointing to disputed science indicating the fetus feels pain after that point. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a measure similar to Ohio’s in May, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has until Thursday to act on his state’s version. Nebraska passed the first law using a fetal pain standard in 2010.
Republican Gov. John Kasich has not said whether he will sign the Ohio bill. Spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor is anti-abortion and is reviewing the bill.
Late-term restrictions are one of several areas in which state legislatures are trying to rein in use of the procedure or public funding for it. So far this year, 80 bills restricting abortion access have cleared state legislatures, according to the Guttmacher Institute. That’s more than double the previous record of 34 set in 2005.
Ohio has been a full participant in the trend. The GOP-led Legislature has taken up eight abortion-related bills since January, including a pioneering measure to ban abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat.
Faith2Action director Janet Folger Porter, who has championed the heartbeat bill, attended Wednesday’s hearing on the less restrictive ban. She said she was happy to see any law protecting unborn children be successful, declining to speculate on how its passage might affect the fate of her bill.
Opponents of the latest Ohio bill testified Wednesday that the proposal eliminates a significant option for women facing serious health risks or fetal abnormalities late in pregnancy. The proposal adjusts a state law found unconstitutional in 1997.
“I think this is just another step toward Ohio becoming one of the most dangerous states for pregnant women to live in,” said Jaime Miracle, policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. The bill would affect about 200 pregnancies a year, but Miracle shared two stories during testimony that conveyed they can be complicated, emotional, risky cases.
State Rep. Joseph Uecker, a Republican from a Cincinnati suburb who sponsored the bill, said that under current state law, women can get abortions throughout pregnancy. He said the bill sets reasonable restrictions.
“We’re actually seeing women coming to Ohio from other states to get these procedures because our law allows it,” he said. “Is that what we want to be known for?”
Miracle said she counsels women seeking abortions as part of her job and must often send them out of state.
“In my work in this field, Ohio is not the capital of late-term abortions,” she said.