So-called ‘failed abortion’ bill passes Ohio Senate as Roe v. Wade trigger ban gains support

By: - October 28, 2021 12:50 am

Protesters of a bill to promote a total abortion ban with the overturning of Roe v. Wade demonstrate outside the Ohio Statehouse in September. Photo by Susan Tebben

A bill seeking to regulate doctors’ actions in statistically rare “failed abortions” was approved by the Ohio Senate on Wednesday, the same day that anti-abortion advocates spoke out on a bill connected to Roe v. Wade.

Just hours after passing Senate Bill 157 through the Government and Oversight Committee, senators passed the bill on for House consideration with a vote of 25-6.

“It’s important to understand that when we talk about this, it’s not an abortion bill,” said bill cosponsor state Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott. “It’s a live baby bill.”

Before passing SB 157 on for full Senate consideration, the Government and Oversight Committee amended the bill to keep doctors paid by state university medical schools from being part of abortion clinic variance agreements.

“Ohio has the ability to decide whether or not it’s going to fund these clinics, and that a provider does not have an independent right to perform abortions,” said Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, who presented the amendment.

McColley referred to a 2019 appeals court decision that said the state could block funding to clinics who provide abortions.

State Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, stood in support of the specific amendment during Wednesday’s Senate session, saying the legislature has the right to decide where taxpayer dollars are spent, and that they shouldn’t be spent on the salaries of doctors helping with abortions.

“This amendment is so consequential, it stands up for what Ohioans want, which is to say that taxpayer dollars should not be going to abortion,” Antani said.

Public opinion polling shows that Ohio is split on abortion legality, but a majority (48%) of Ohioans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Recent studies from the Pew Research Center also show that six in 10 Americans also believe it should be legal.

The bill language could spell trouble for clinics also facing a challenge from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. Yost announced this week he is suing the Biden administration to change a federal rule allowing taxpayer dollars to go to abortion services.

Yost wants to see a 2019 rule reinstated that “required federally funded family-planning clinics to be (1) physically and financially independent of abortion clinics and (2) refrain from referring patients for abortions,” according to a release from Yost’s office on the lawsuit.

The state’s attorney general is already deep in the abortion fight, having joined nearly two dozen other state attorneys general in asking that the issue of abortion legality in Roe v. Wade be returned to the states.

The rest of the SB 157 seeks to criminalize lack of action by a physician who conducts an abortion and, if a child is alive after the attempted abortion, does not provide medical care to sustain the life of the child.

Abortion and pro-choice advocates have said that medical standard already exists inside and outside of their health clinics, and state Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Avondale, reiterated the argument in Wednesday’s committee.

“If (a physician) already concluded that they’ve done everything to try to maintain the life of the child and there’s nothing left to be done, but yet they’ll be penalized and punished for an unknown,” Thomas said. “I’m not understanding the logic of adding another layer to a law that’s already on the books.”

State Sen. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, chair of the committee and supporter of the bill, said it was up to Thomas to decide how he felt about the merits of the bill.

“If you would like to vote against a bill that protects babies that have been born alive, that is your prerogative,” Roegner said.

When the bill was introduced, 2019 data from the Ohio Department of Health’s yearly abortion report showed no “failed abortions” after 12 weeks gestation, a statistic that repeated itself in the 2020 abortion report.

Of all abortions conducted last year, none of the pregnancies were considered viable based on ultrasound and other medical testing.

Abortion ‘trigger ban’

The Senate Health Committee spent another day considering a “trigger ban” that would make abortion illegal in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Supporters of the abortion ban said a bill that is teed up to prepare for a future development is common, often done when the state is awaiting federal funding or anticipating a legal decision.

They also continued arguments that the bill itself doesn’t cut off services such as contraception. Anti-abortion advocates said the bill “empowers” women while criminalizing physician’s for playing a role in abortion. The punishments in the bill could include prison time and loss of medical licenses for those that participate or even promote abortion.

“It may be a constitutional right, but it doesn’t mean it’s right,” said Jerry Freewalt, Executive Director of the Catholic Conference of Ohio.

State Sen. Cecil Thomas, also a member of the Senate Health Committee, came in with the argument of pro-choice advocates like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice, saying abortions will still happen if the practice is made illegal, they just won’t be done as safely.

Denise Leipold, of Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, said allowing abortions just in case they are done unsafely isn’t reason enough to maintain their legality.

“If you are saying keep abortion legal so women will not have back-alley abortions, or whatever you want to call them, it’s like saying let’s keep bank robbery legal so that the bank robbers don’t get shot,” Leipold said.

The country’s highest court is set to take up a case that would have implications for the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling later this year.

Abortions are legal in the state up to 22 weeks gestation.



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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 (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.