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Interpretation of Ohio abortion ban exemptions can vary based on 'values'

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Armmy Picca
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Shutterstock
Gavel and computer with file

The story about the ten-year-old rape survivor who traveled to Indiana for an abortion days after Ohio’s new abortion ban went into effect is raising questions about whether she needed to travel to get that procedure. The new Ohio law bans abortions when fetal heart activity can be detected. That can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. But questions about whether a narrow exception in the new law could be applied in the girl’s case are not easy to answer.

Republican Attorney General Dave Yost said the ban has exceptions to say abortions can be done to save life or prevent long term impairment of a bodily function. And in the case of the ten-year-old girl, he says she would have likely qualified.

"Without knowing anything about the medical file, or her condition or her development and without the doctor's knowledge, you can't really make a definitive statement about it. However, it's very likely that a ten-year-old in this situation would have been able to been treated here in Ohio," Yost said.

State Representative Jeff Crossman (D-Parma), who is running against Yost for attorney general this fall, disagrees.

"It's patently false and the attorney general knows it and he's lying,"

Crossman noted some lawmakers made impassioned speeches about their own experiences of sexual assaults, rape or abortion in an effort to get an exception for rape or incest. He also noted majority Republicans struck down an amendment that would have allowed those exceptions when the current law was being passed in the Ohio House.

Protestors unfurl sign as House approves "Heartbeat Bill"
Jo Ingles
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Statehouse News Bureau
Protesters hold a banner inside the Ohio House chamber after lawmakers approve SB23. April 2019.

"The fact that this has been pointed out to him and he continues to double-down to say that she deserved and would have received the care in Ohio is outrageous. It's outrageous. He's lying. And no doctor, not one doctor in Ohio would risk losing their license and get a felony conviction to give a ten-year-old an abortion in Ohio based on the way the law is written," Crossman said.

Crossman asked the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, the non-partisan legal agency that helped lawmakers write the bill that eventually become law, whether "minor victims of sexual assault are able to receive abortions within Ohio after six weeks gestation." The answer was, "No, Ohio’s abortion prohibition applies regardless of the circumstances of conception or the age of the mother."

Letter from Legislative Service Commission to Rep. Jeff Crossman's aide
Submitted by Rep. Jeff Crossman
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Jeff Crossman, representative, Ohio House
Letter from Legislative Service Commission to Rep. Jeff Crossman's aide

Ohio State University law professor Marc Spindelman said he cannot comment on the case involving the ten-year-old rape victim. But he said, in general, interpretations of exceptions to a law like this can vary from person to person.

“Where there is an exception to a general rule prohibiting abortion, you can read it at least narrowly or more broadly,” Spindelman said.

Spindelman said the way people often interpret those exceptions can be based on their own personal values.

"It's not just pro-life values that are on the line. There are also, you know, values of autonomy, of equality, of freedom from state control, of the independent value of the life and health of pregnant women and other pregnant people who are better implicated in the sort of broad matrix," Spindelman said.

Spindelman said in the case of abortion, the conversation is often about competing values.

"Part of what we are now beginning to engage in in different ways are public conversations about the competing values that are at stake and so continually getting them on the board just feels quite important, independent of what one makes about how to balance or accommodate them," Spindelman said.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.
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