2018 Year In Review: Heated Debate Over Abortion Bills

Dec 31, 2018

Lawmakers couldn't get the votes to overturn Gov. John Kasich's veto of a bill banning abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected.  But Kasich signed another bill that bans a procedure commonly after 12 weeks gestation. And these were not the only abortion bills lawmakers considered this year.

Exit polling from this November’s election showed the economy and health care were the issues most voters identified as top priority in their voting decisions. One issue that was down farther on that list was abortion. Ohio lawmakers spent a lot of time debating that one. While the so called “heartbeat bill” and the 12 week abortion ban has captured most of the headlines lately, there were other pieces of legislation that didn’t pass. One was a bill that required fetal remains be cremated or buried. It passed the Ohio Senate in January. Republican Representative Joe Uecker was its sponsor.

“It seeks to promote and honor the dignity of the unborn by insuring procedures are in place to properly dispose of fetal remains," Uecker says.

But Jaime Miracle with NARAL ProChoice Ohio says women throughout the state already have the choice to cremate or bury fetal remains if they want.

“This bill isn’t about making sure women have options. It is about limiting which options exist. It’s about shaming women who have abortions and medical professionals who provide abortion care," Miracle says.

The bill, which was supported by Ohio Right to Life, passed out of a House committee later in the year but didn’t make it to a full House vote.

Another bill, which was not supported by Ohio Right to Life, didn’t pass. It would abolish abortion altogether. It was introduced and assigned to a committee but never went further even though 18 of the 99 house members had signed on as sponsors or co-sponsors. 

At the heart of all of these bills is an ideological and political divide between lawmakers over the controversial issue. Some, like State Senator Peggy Lehner, a former leader of Dayton Right to Life, see think it is the duty of lawmakers to pass many of these anti-abortion measures.

“You know it’s a living human being. Those of you who are mothers or fathers, at any point in your wife or your own pregnancy, did you think of your unborn baby as a fetus, as something other than a small, fragile new life," Lehner says.

There’s a political reality here too…especially for Republican lawmakers. Lori Viars is with Warren County Right to Life and the Conservative Republican Leadership Committee.

“There is a lot more pressure on them to do so.  The conservative groups across the state, the pro-life groups and the pastor’s networks are in unity, I mean full court press. Everybody’s tired of talking about this for eight years and not doing it. Everybody is tired of empty pro-life promises from pro-life people at election time," Viars says.

Groups that support abortion rights are also putting pressure on lawmakers to reject these bills. A rally that took place at the Ohio Statehouse recently featured women who have had abortions or were impacted in some way by the issue.

Democratic State Senator Charleta Tavares is one of those who says passing bans on abortion won’t stop it.

“Women will still have abortions, just like they have from the beginning of time. It will just be a cruel, and dangerous, very dangerous way of doing it," Tavares says.

Democratic Sen. Joe Schiavoni read part of testimony from a sex trafficking survivor who became pregnant at the age of 11. She followed the instructions of a 13 year old who was also being trafficked had been in the same situation.

“I chose to abort. She loaded me up up with alcohol and drugs and made me take cold showers and beat my stomach until I bled heavily and we knew it was over," Schiavoni reads on the floor of the Ohio Senate.

The lack of exceptions for rape and incest in these bills also bothers some lawmakers. Doctors have been testifying that they’ve had colleagues who moved out of state because of increasing abortion regulations. And opponents say the restrictions being passed or considered now are unconstitutional.

In April, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals became the second to strike down a 2016 Ohio law that diverted federal family planning dollars away from Planned Parenthood. In 2016, Cincinnati federal Judge Michael Barrett blocked the law from being implemented and declared it unconstitutional. And just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected appeals from Kansas and Louisiana for a similar law that had been struck down in those states. That decision included the court’s two newest members, thought by many to be the ones who would swing the court to eventually overturn the landmark Roe – vs – Wade decision.