Abortion bill passage could bring clinic closures

By: - December 9, 2021 12:50 am

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Protesters march south on High Street, part of a large circuit downtown that changed from the planned route due to the large turnout. More than a thousand people gathered at the Statehouse as part of the nationwide Women’s March focussing on reproductive rights, Saturday, October 2, 2021. Photo by Graham Stokes for OCJ.

The newest abortion bill to pass the Ohio House could spell the closure of Southwest Ohio clinics and the criminalization of doctors.

Despite multiple Democrat attempts to amend the bill and remove the language that would affect doctors’ ability to transfer patients from abortion facilities, Senate Bill 157 passed Wednesday afternoon along party lines, 59-33.

State Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, attempted to bring in the same amendment she tried to include in committee hearings on the bill, to remove the bill’s provision prohibiting physicians who are affiliated with and funded by public medical schools and institutions from having transfer agreement variances with abortion clinics.

This would effectively close clinics in Southwest Ohio, Russo emphasized in Wednesday’s House session.

“As a reminder to my colleagues, these consulting physicians that are required in order to get a variance from these transfer agreements, do not actually perform abortion services,” Russo said. “They are only consulted by the facility in the very rare case when there is an emergency and the need to transfer a patient to the hospital.”

After the bill was passed, Planned Parenthood’s Southwest Ohio region confirmed this would in fact be true, and is something they plan to fight against.

“Stripping abortion care from Southwest Ohio will cause havoc that disproportionately impacts our communities,” said Kersha Deibel, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio. “This isn’t the end, and we will continue to fight — abortion is still legal in Ohio.”

The organization said the closure of Planned Parenthood and Women’s Med of Dayton through this bill “would make Cincinnati the biggest metropolitan (area) in Ohio without an abortion provider.”

The bill was originally slated by sponsors to prevent doctors from allowing a fetus born alive after an attempted abortion to die without medical intervention, and to create another reporting system for “failed abortion” cases.

The chairman of the House committee that passed SB 157, state Rep. Susan Manchester, R-Waynesfield, stood in support of the bill on the House floor on Wednesday.

“This is an important piece of legislation that provides a system to protect infants that are born alive after an abortion by enforcing the administration of prevailing standards of care that apply to every child,” Manchester said.

Testimony made throughout the Senate and House committee process by abortion and pro-choice advocates focused on current law that already prohibits doctors from failing to provide care in a life-saving situation, and reporting requirements already in place by the Ohio Department of Health.

Opponents of the bill also said “failed abortions” are a rare occurrence, as shown by state data.

The bill became more controversial once the amendment on physician variance agreements was added, after which abortion advocates called the bill “dangerous,” even saying the bill would impact complicated pregnancies in hospitals, not just abortions in surgical facilities.

Another amendment tabled by the GOP majority attempted to remove the criminal charges physicians face for not following documentation procedure created in the bill. State Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin, presented the amendment just as she did in the previous House committee.

In the bill, doctors could face felony charges for failing to provide care to infants after an attempted abortion (something that is already a part of Ohio law), and for failing to file the proper paperwork on “failed abortions” as prescribed in the bill.

Liston said the bill impacts “futile” medical situations in which resuscitation of the baby isn’t scientifically possible and keeping the parent from holding the child only adds to the trauma of the situation.

“The only situations this bill impacts are those emergency circumstances where the woman’s life is at risk or there is a serious complication with the fetus,” Liston said. “These are desired pregnancies and devastating situations to all involved.”

State Rep. Kristen Boggs, D-Columbus, tried to add an amendment for workplace protection for pregnant Ohioans, and state Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, also tried to amend the bill to make workplace accommodations for pregnancies. Also attempted as an amendment was the inclusion of paid family leave, which has been a measure state Rep. Janine Boyd, D-Cleveland Heights, has championed for multiple general assemblies.

All amendments were tabled along party lines.

The bill is headed to conference committee because of a technical change added during hearings in the House Families, Aging & Human Services Committee, and could head to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk in the next week.

DeWine has consistently approved of anti-abortion legislation, so it seems unlikely he will veto the bill.

Abortion is legal up to 22 weeks gestation in Ohio.

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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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