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A Legal And Medical Perspective On What The New Abortion Laws Will Mean To Ohio Women

When Governor John Kasich signed provisions in the two year state budget concerning abortion and birth control, abortion rights activists began raising questions about what they mean for women in the future. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles examines the questions.

Within hours after the abortion measures were signed into law by Governor Kasich, bloggers and activists were taking to social media and the airwaves.  Here’s liberal commentator Rachel Maddow on her show on MSNBC questioning whether the new rules would affect women who get some forms of birth control:

Maddow – The Ohio State budget now essentially says hey, you want an i.u.d. or you want birth control pills, that means you want an abortion and now of course, there’s a mandatory ultrasound before you can do that.
Other bloggers raised questions about women who were having miscarriages and whether their doctors would be able to deal with the problem immediately.  Dr. Mark Parnes, a Columbus obstetrician and gynecologist says it’s doubtful this legislation would affect most birth control pills.  But he says it might affect how doctors think about handling miscarriages in the future.

Parnes – Let me present a scenario where a woman comes in who is desiring a pregnancy, is having bleeding and through the process of evaluation, the physician determines the woman is miscarrying and there’s no possibility of the pregnancy continuing.  Now if that physician also has worries because they understand that if they do something that is not done exactly right, they are liable for a misdemeanor or felony charge or a fine, that can slow down the process because they are uncertain as to whether they are really doing things correctly, not from a medical standpoint but from a legal standpoint that may or may not be clear, particularly with it being written in this manner.

Parnes says the problem is the new law redefines some terms that mean one thing to a medical professional but another thing under the legal context of this bill.  Take the word “fetus” for example.

Parnes – After six weeks, all of the organs have at least been formed and so the scientific nomenclature says at that time, we went from an embryo to a fetus.  And it stays a fetus until it delivers and then it is called a baby.  And what I see them doing is saying that we are just going to define fetus from the point of conception.

Parnes says he’s not sure why this bill is redefining medical terms.  In fact, he says it is redefining some terms that are not necessary scientific – like the word “individual”.

Parnes – Explain to me how several cells that are destined to become a human being are able to be an individual

Ingles – So you are saying that there’s no way that it can be an individual because at that point, it is reliant on the Mother’s body to make it an individual.

Parnes – That’s the only way I know it to be. Now does it make any difference?  I’m not sure whether it does or doesn’t.  But I am wondering why are we spending time defining these terms.

Parnes says the redefinition of terms could prove confusing for doctors.  It’s not just doctors who are confused by the terminology and the language in this bill.  Paul Beck is a law professor at Ohio State University.

Beck - These often are big complicated bills and they write the language in haste.  They do the best job they can in writing the language but no amount of language can cover all contingencies.  And so there are going to be things later on that have to get interpreted within the executive branch bureaucracy or with the courts.

Beck says there’s always something else to consider in bills like these – unintended consequences.

Beck – We don’t really know how it’s going to play out over time and sometimes lawmakers will come back and “correct” legislation to basically adjust the bill so that those unforeseen consequences, now that they are forseen, are basically anticipated and taken care of.  It’s harder to that in one of these omnibus bills because that then would require them to bring the bill back on the floor in kind of a one up vote and one of the reasons it’s packed in the omnibus is that they were able to duck that one up vote.

Some of the new abortion legislation gives the state’s department of health the authority to write new rules for abortion clinics and doctors.  And that will happen in the coming months.  But the fact that much of this new legislation is left up to interpretation and rule writing worries some activists.  They note Republicans and those appointed to their posts by the Republican leadership will be the key writers of the rules.  The legal abortion advocates also question why Mike Gonadakis, the President of Ohio Right to Life, was appointed to serve on the state medical board.  Gonadakis, himself, has not call after repeated attempts for comment on this story.

Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.