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More Abortion Legislation On The Way

Proposed new regulations on abortion could be among the first measures that lawmakers will see in the new session of the Ohio General Assembly. 

Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.

First up is a ban on abortion after 20 weeks. Right now, Ohio law bans abortion after viability is determined – somewhere between 20 and 24 weeks. But Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis says activists want the ban set at 20 weeks, when they say a fetus feels pain. 

“Ohio Right to Life has been very transparent in its approach – that we believe in the incremental approach. Recall in 2011, we passed a late term ban that banned abortions at the point of viability. So we’ve seen a 62% reduction in late term abortions since we passed the ban in 2011. We think this is the next logical step.”

Gonidakis says 13 states have passed a 20 week ban, and the bans in Georgia and Arizona have been challenged in court and upheld. But Kellie Copeland with NARAL/Pro Choice Ohio says only 1.2% of all abortions are performed after 20 weeks and almost always because of serious pregnancy complications which she says are usually frightening and heartbreaking. 
“Ohio law already forces women in these situations to leave the state to access abortion care that they need. This law would result in Gov. Kasich and other politicians inserting their political interference even earlier in a pregnancy, and we have very grave concerns about the impact on Ohioans.”

And after this proposed 20 week ban is put forward in the legislature, another piece of abortion legislation is waiting for its turn to be introduced – for the third time. It’s the so-called Heartbeat Bill, which would ban abortion after the first detectable fetal heartbeat, around six to eight weeks. Janet Folger Porter of Faith2Action has backed the Heartbeat Bill in the last two sessions of the General Assembly, and she says she supports the 20 week ban, but her goal is clear. 
“We have a sponsor and a joint co-sponsor and a whole host of co-sponsors on the bill already. It’s just a matter of timing. And I think we’re going to pick up a few more before we introduce the bill. But I think that the time has come to actually see those children with beating hearts protected by law. That’s what we intend to do, and we’re frankly not going to stop until it happens.”

The Heartbeat Bill was brought the House floor for a sudden, unexpected vote in the lame duck session but failed - and both those who supported and opposed it blamed politics. Critics of abortion restrictions have complained that abortion bills are built on political aspirations and religious convictions, and often exclude doctors and other medical experts. Monette Richards is with the Secular Majority, which is concerned about religion in state policy. 
“It’s worrying to me. There have been a number of laws on the books, some passed, some didn’t, just these last couple of General Assembly sessions. For instance, the Fetal Pain bill is based on bad science, a lot of the anti-choice laws are religious in nature.”

Folger Porter says the Heartbeat Bill has usually been introduced around Valentine’s Day, but it could be put forward earlier. Ohio Right to Life hasn’t supported the Heartbeat Bill in the past, saying it’s unconstitutional. But Copeland says the bans are both unconstitutional. Gonidakis says the 20 week ban should be introduced shortly, though he declined to name the sponsors. The ban is similar to the proposal that was pulled before a vote in the US House recently, after some Republican Congresswomen raised concerns about restrictions in it. Gonidakis says the Ohio proposal doesn’t include some of those disputed concerns. But while the ban does allow exceptions when a woman’s life and health are at risk, it does not include exceptions for rape or incest. Gonidakis says the expectation that by 20 weeks, a woman who was the victim of such a crime would have made a decision to terminate a pregnancy long before that.

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