July 25, 2014

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GOP-backed bill expands Ohio’s abortion rules

COLUMBUS — Women seeking an abortion in Ohio would have to wait longer, submit to an ultrasound and listen to their doctors describe features of the fetus under a Republican-backed bill that will have its first hearing this week.

The bill would also require doctors to tell women that the procedure increases the risk of breast cancer, something on which experts disagree.

Supporters of the measure say it is meant at curbing abortions by helping women make a more informed decision, but critics argue that some of the information doctors will be mandated to tell women is bogus.

Abortion providers also would have to tell women whether the ultrasound showed an audible heartbeat.

At least 21 states regulate the provision of ultrasounds by abortion providers in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks U.S. abortion laws. Ohio law already orders doctors to give patients a chance to view an ultrasound if one was done.

Under the proposed legislation, Ohio would join Louisiana and Texas in requiring an ultrasound and listen to a doctor describe the image. The bill is scheduled for its first hearing before an Ohio House committee on Wednesday.

The legislation also would increase the time most women must wait to undergo an abortion from 24 to 48 hours. It would require doctors to describe to patients “all relevant features” of the fetus.

Mike Gonidakis, the president of the anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life, said the bill would allow women to “pause, learn and reflect” about their decision.
“Far too often, women have been told it’s not a baby, that it’s just a lump of cells and not really alive,” Gonidakis said. “But with the ultrasound, you might be able to see the baby sucking his thumb or smiling and see that it’s not just a bunch of tissue.”

Opponents of the measure are vowing to challenge the bill throughout the legislative process.

“Legislators do not care about women’s health; they care about controlling women’s choices,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. “Our Legislature at every turn stands in the way of expanding access for family planning and comprehensive sex ed, and now they’re also creating more obstacles for women seeking care (and) an abortion.”

Critics add the bill would force doctors to pass down phony information to their patients regarding the link between cancer and abortions.

According the American Cancer Society, “scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer.”

The latest abortion-curbing proposal in Ohio comes after the so-called heartbeat bill fizzled in the Legislature last year.

The measure sought to ban most abortions at the first detectable fetal heartbeat, as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Ohio anti-abortion activists were fiercely divided over the bill, with some fearing a court challenge could undo other abortion restrictions already in place.

This year, state lawmakers have pursued other efforts to curtail access to abortions by tackling the issue in the budget.

One provision would ban public hospitals from having agreements with abortion clinics to transfer patients.

State health department regulations require all ambulatory surgical facilities in Ohio, including abortion providers, to have transfer agreements with hospitals that would take patients in case they experience medical complications.

Abortion rights advocates say the move will force many facilities to close, limiting access to abortions.

Supporters contend the agreements left open the chance for public hospitals to complete the procedure, should something go wrong at an abortion clinic. They say the change tightens Ohio’s prohibition on using public money to support abortions.

A separate proposal in the budget would also send Planned Parenthood to the back of the line for public family-planning money. Underlying the debate is Planned Parenthood’s role as a provider of abortions, a procedure backers of the proposal oppose funding with public dollars.

Among other changes, the newest Ohio bill would require abortion providers to give patients a written statement stating the providers’ monetary profits or losses resulting from practicing abortions. Doctors also would have to tell women that the fetus will feel pain during the procedure, something critics question since studies haven’t determined when exactly a fetus can begin to feel pain.

The Ohio State Medical Association, the largest physician group in the state, hasn’t taken a position on the bill. Still, its spokesman, Reginald Fields, said the association acknowledges that the bill’s reporting criteria would have a “huge impact” on physicians.

Doctors in contempt of the legislation could be charged with a first-degree felony and fined up to $1 million.