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Questions Remain in Ohio’s New Abortion Rules

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 at 6:35 PM

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When Gov. John Kasich signed new laws in the two-year state budget concerning abortion and birth control earlier this week, activists for legal abortion started raising a lot of questions about what these rules mean for Ohio women in the future. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles takes a look at that question.

Within hours after the abortion measures were signed into law by Gov. John Kasich, bloggers and activists were taking to social media and the airwaves. Here’s liberal commentator Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC show 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 be on 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 their problems 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 charge or a felony charge or a fine. That can slow down the process because they are uncertain as to are they 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’s called a baby. And what I see them doing is saying, ‘Well, we’re 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’s 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 upon 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, and they typically are 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 legislators will come back and ‘correct’ legislation to basically adjust the bill so that those unforeseen consequences, now that they’re forseen, are basically anticipated and taken care of. It’s harder to do that in one of these omnibus bill,s 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 health department 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 Gonidakis, the President of Ohio Right to Life, was appointed to serve on the state medical board. Gonidakis has not called after repeated attempts for comment on this story.

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