Ohio House committee considers bill to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) An Ohio House committee heard from supporters of HB598, a bill that would ban abortion immediately if the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling that overturns Roe v. Wade.

A leaked draft opinion earlier this month indicated the majority of justices were ready to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling that allows abortion nationwide. Much of the debate on this Ohio House bill, also commonly called a “trigger” ban came down to the lack of exceptions for things like rape, incest, and life or health of a pregnant person.

Many of the backers of the bill in the Ohio House Government Oversight committee said they consider fertilization — or conception — to be the point at which life begins. Among them was Allie Frazier with Ohio Right to Life of Northeast Ohio.

“Ohio must draw a hard line about abortion. It kills children and creates a society that’s actively antagonistic to women and our biology. Let’s be abundantly clear. Our bodies are not defective and pregnancy is not a disease. Likewise, women in our modern era have more agency than any women before us in choosing when to start our families and how to live our lives. We should not be told by the state that we need the ability to kill our children to be truly free,” Frazier said.

The bill would ban abortion in nearly all cases, at all points in a pregnancy. It does allow doctors who perform an abortion to save the life of the pregnant person, but it doesn’t prevent them from being arrested. A doctor that performs an abortion — under the proposed bill — would have to put up an affirmative defense, which puts the burden on the doctor to justify why they conducted an abortion in order to avoid being convicted.

Opponents of this bill say this would have a chilling effect on doctors who might not perform an abortion early enough to save a pregnant individual’s life out of concerns they’d be prosecuted.

One of the questions that had been raised about the bill in the past was that it didn’t allow for an abortion in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, which happens when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the uterus. The fetus in that case cannot become viable and the condition poses a risk to the pregnant person. The committee accepted an amendment from Rep. D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron) that would allow doctors to argue in their defense that they performed an abortion to save the life of a pregnant person because of an ectopic pregnancy. But Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) said the language that was added was unclear and too vague.

Watch: Ohio House Government Oversight committee hearing on HB598

Rep. Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood) said he was concerned about some of the language in the bill that would make it illegal to promote an abortion. He asked if it could lead to prosecution to people who help pregnant individuals get abortions in other states. He also wondered whether it could effect distribution of abortion inducing drugs from here in Ohio to other states where the practice would still be legal.

“Ohio has a number of major drug distribution centers in this state. If that drug distribution has a drug passing through to another state that does allow abortion, would that drug distribution center be in violation of the criminal provisions under this bill?,” Skindell asked.

This bill would ban abortions, without exceptions, even in cases of rape or incest. Melanie Miller with the Ashland Pregnancy Care Center said abortion makes the trauma of rape worse.

“Two wrongs can never correct a right. And I have heard first-hand where the child has even been that silver lining, the gift or the good that has come out of that tragic situation,” Miller said.

But in a 10-year study of a thousand women who had abortions, 95% said it was the right decision. Opponents said, under the bill, it would be too complicated for doctors to defend themselves for performing abortions to save women’s lives.

Miller’s controversial comment was reminiscent of one made by Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland), the bill’s sponsor, in her initial testimony when she was asked about a hypothetical scenario in which the rape of a 13-year-old girl resulted in a pregnancy. Schmidt said that would be “an opportunity for that woman, no matter how young or old she is, to make a determination about what she’s going to do to help that life be a productive human being.”

A similar bill is under consideration in the Ohio Senate but it has not received any hearings. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said he would rather wait to see the specific language of the pending ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I want it to be something that is sculpted constitutionally and we don’t know really what the decision is going to say,” said Huffman.

In order to get a bill like this in place before the possible U.S. Supreme Court ruling next month, it would have to be passed by the full Ohio House and Ohio Senate with an emergency clause and signed into law.

That’s a heavy lift in a short period of time. But the “trigger” ban bills are not the only options that could be used to ban abortions immediately. Attorney General Dave Yost and Gov. Mike DeWine, both Republican, are looking into whether the state could immediately reinstate the so-called “heartbeat law”, which was put on hold by a federal court. It would ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be about six weeks into a pregnancy — before many women even know they are pregnant.

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