Women’s health clinics: Abortion disposal law creates ‘impossible situation’

By: - March 11, 2021 12:30 am

Abortion rights activists rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Robin Bravender.

A bill signed into law mere months ago regarding the disposal of surgical abortion tissue is being challenged in court, with women’s health clinics saying the bill creates “an impossible situation” for them.

The complaint, filed in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas by the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, women’s health clinics across the state and one doctor, argues that Senate Bill 27 creates rules and regulations that clinics won’t find out about until after the law takes effect.

The law is set to take effect on April 6, and when it takes effect, the Ohio Department of Health must implement rules on what proper disposal of tissue and materials looks like for those clinics, to avoid misdemeanor criminal charges.

“We simply want reassurance that we won’t be punished for our inability to comply with a directive that doesn’t exist,” the groups said in a joint statement.

While the misdemeanor charges won’t be applied until after the ODH makes the rules and regulations known, the women’s health clinics involved in the lawsuit say they are still exposed to civil lawsuits and risks to their professional licenses as soon as the law takes effect.

“Given the history of aggressive enforcement by the State of Ohio, including the ODH, plaintiffs have a credible fear that they will be penalized despite the impossibility of complying with SB27 when it takes effect,” the lawsuit states.

When the senate bill was under consideration by the state legislature, members of Planned Parenthood and other women’s health clinics who provide abortions as well said the bill was unnecessary because state laws already cover the disposal of medical remains. The ACLU called the law “a sea-change in how plaintiffs manage tissue from a procedural abortion.”

“Currently, such tissue is handled in accordance with laws regulating infectious waste ­— similar to other tissue removed during medical procedures and surgeries,” according to the lawsuit.

In law already on the books, “infectious waste” is destroyed using methods such as incineration or chemical treatment.

“Instead, SB 27 singles out abortion — and more specifically, procedural abortion — and requires tissue from a procedural abortion to be cremated or interred,” clinics said in the lawsuit.

The law does not apply to tissue from a miscarriage or medication abortion, “although tissue from a miscarriage or medication abortion is identical to the tissue from a procedural abortion,” according to the lawsuit.

The groups are asking that the court stop the law from taking effect and declare the law unconstitutional.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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