Senate Panel Advances 'Heartbeat' Bill; Other Abortion Measures Debated

Legislation to ban abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat has been set for a Wednesday floor vote after clearing a Senate panel with several changes.

In addition to the so-called "heartbeat bill" (SB 23), the Senate Health, Human Services & Medicaid Committee also advanced a resolution urging Congress to pass the "Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act."

The House Health Committee, meanwhile, held its first hearing for a proposal requiring schools to teach about fetal development.

In the Senate panel, the fetal heartbeat detection proposal picked up several amendments through a substitute version before it was reported 8-4, with Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) joining the committee's three Democrats in opposition.

Sponsor Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) said the substitute version's changes include language allowing the Department of Health to consult with "independent experts such as" the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Ohio State Medical Association when developing informational materials, rather than just those two groups.

Another change would give doctors more leeway in prescribing contraceptive medications, the sponsor said.

"We don't want anything in this bill to say we're trying to prevent unwanted pregnancies," she said.

Other changes: remove language allowing the State Medical Board to suspend licenses without a hearing; modify language around informed consent; clarify that a fetal heartbeat can be established through standard medical practices; and add language that the state has a "compelling interest in protecting the life of an unborn human individual," Sen. Roegner said.

Another tweak in the substitute version adds Planned Parenthood v. Casey to the list of U.S. Supreme Court cases that might be overruled, the sponsor said. The original language just listed Roe v. Wade.

Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) questioned those provisions as "unnecessary language."

Sen. Kunze joined the Democrats in opposing the substitute version.

Democrats offered a handful of amendments, all tabled by majority Republicans, with Sen. Kunze again joining the Democrats in opposition.

The first, offered by Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) would provide an exception in cases of rape or incest.

"One of the reoccurring concerns that I have, of many, with this bill is the fact that there is no exception for a pregnancy being conceived by either rape or incest, which pretty much criminal behavior precedence over the victim," she said. "Women and girls who are victims of rape or incest are forced, by this bill, when they have already been victimized, victimizing them a second time."

Another amendment offered by Sen. Antonio would have provided exceptions in situations in which a woman should not continue with a pregnancy because of her mental health or status on medications to treat their mental health.

A pair of amendments offered by Sen. Tina Maharath (D-Canal Winchester) would have allowed hospitals to inform rape victims about emergency contraceptives and provide them if requested, and require mandatory health insurance coverage for maternity services.

"It is our responsibility as legislators to make sure that women have access to basic maternal health needs," she said.

Born Alive Resolution: The Senate committee voted along party lines to report the resolution (SR 41) urging Congress to enact proposed legislation, which would impose penalties on medical providers who don't provide life-saving care for children born alive during attempted abortions. The resolution was reported during its first hearing before the committee.

"We have and will continue to debate the issue of abortion," said Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima), who sponsored the resolution alongside Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina). "Indeed, this committee has heard hours of testimony on the matter over the previous weeks. Surely we can all agree that a newborn infant, a living breathing child, should have claim to the same protections and professional care that are afforded to any child."

Stephanie Ranade Krider, vice president and executive director of Ohio Right to Life, said the Congressional proposal would not restrict or ban abortion, but punishes doctors who refuse to provide life-saving care to born-alive infants who survive failed abortions.

"It seems that this shouldn't be a terribly divisive bill," she said. "Living, breathing human infants deserve the same protection across the board, regardless of the circumstance surrounding their birth."

Sen. Antonio said Ohio law makes failing to provide care for a child born alive after an attempted abortion a felony. At the federal level, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled a child born alive after an attempted abortion is a citizen, she said.

"One of the things we know is that there's a tenet for medical personnel to do no harm," she said. "With all of these things that have been listed that are protections, that are acknowledgements, why are we looking at this resolution right now? Why is this another step we need to take, when it seems to me… the protections already exist?”

Ms. Krider said it would put explicit protections in law and explicit instructions for the situation.

Jaime Miracle, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said the resolution "has no purpose other than continuing the inflammatory rhetoric against medical providers who provide abortion care."

"For decades at all levels anti-abortion organizations have tried to use the truth to persuade individuals from choosing abortion care, but that did not work," she said. "So instead the movement has transitioned into lies and complete fabrications to smear these medical professionals and the patients they serve."

Sen. Lehner said the resolution is about babies that survive abortions, but that the opponents' testimony focused instead on violence against abortion providers.

"If you had a resolution before this body asking us to condemn the murder of abortion providers, we would vote for it," she said. "In that same spirit, I would ask my colleagues who support abortion rights to say that sometimes we just go too far."

Ms. Miracle said Ohio and U.S. laws already mandate that doctors take care of patients regardless of age.

"This resolution misrepresents what abortion care looks like, and through the misrepresentation of abortion care, we are using inflammatory and violence-inducing rhetoric," she said.

Sen. Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) said similar legislation was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002.

"Why are we sending a resolution to a law that's already in place?" he asked.

Sen. Lehner said the governor of Virginia said, in a hypothetical, it would be up to the woman to decide whether a baby born alive would receive any health care.

"What someone says is meaningless as long as it's already in the law," Sen. Thomas said. "To come up with a resolution based on what someone else said doesn't make sense."

Education Measure: Sponsor Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) told the House Health Committee the legislation (HB 90) would require the development of instructional programs on the "probable anatomical and physiological child at two-week gestational intervals."

"Schools have the ability to directly influence the lives of students," he said. "Unfortunately, schools do not have the ability to teach about the importance of human life, as the rights of the unborn have been constantly under attack."

Rep. Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Hts.) said ODH should focus its efforts on issues such as intimate partner violence, infant mortality and sexually transmitted infections.

"I think that there are opportunities to work with the Ohio Department of Health on things that are increasing in prevalence rather than things that are decreasing in prevalence," she said.

The sponsor told Rep. Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) that the legislation is based on a measure that passed in Oklahoma. That bill had other provisions, such as requiring the teaching that life begins at conception, that led to it being struck down in the courts.

"We decided to perhaps take a different approach to this idea," he said.

Gongwer Volume 88, Report 48, Article 1