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Ohio Right to Life files complaint with state; abortion rights group calls it a 'smokescreen'

The so-called "Heartbeat Bill", which bans abortion at about six weeks into pregnancy, before it was signed by Gov. Mike DeWine in 2019.
Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau
The so-called "heartbeat" bill which bans abortion at about six weeks into pregnancy, before it was signed by Gov. Mike DeWine in 2019.

A complaint has been filed with the State Medical Board of Ohio over a patient who was reportedly denied health care after a miscarriage. Doctors in that situation had reportedly cited the state’s abortion laws for delaying health care. But the complaint that was filed said the new law does not prevent doctors from taking action when someone's life or health is on the line.

Ohio Right to Life’s Elizabeth Whitmarsh said she filed a complaint with the state medical board over a case involving a Washington, D.C. woman who had a miscarriage in September, when Ohio’s six-week abortion law was in place.

“I filed the complaint because I think that it’s extremely important that no other woman experience anything close to what this poor woman had to experience while visiting the state of Ohio," Whitmarsh said.

Whitmarsh said she hasn’t spoken to the woman but learned of her situationthrough an NPR story. It reported Christina Zielke, 33, from Washington D.C., was visiting northeast Ohio in September when she had a miscarriage that put her health and life in danger.

The report says the Painesville hospital and doctors who practiced there would not perform a necessary dilation and curettage procedure, citing limitations by the abortion ban that was in place at that time. Under that ban, abortions could not be conducted after fetal electrical activity could be detected — something that can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Though the law has an exception for the life of the mother and to prevent permanent damage of bodily organs, the hospital, according to the report, did not believe the law allowed an abortion in this case.

The hospital hasn't yet commented on the situation. But Whitmarsh said doctors who put that patient in that condition were violating the law.

Kellie Copeland with ProChoice Ohio said Ohio Right to Life created the problem.

"They are not filing this complaint out of concern for her. They are filing this complaint to cover up the fact that they are culpable with what happened. And where does this complaint go? It goes straight to the president of Ohio Right to Life himself, Mike Gonidakis, who inappropriately sits on the state’s medical board," Copeland said.

Copeland said doctors were clear when they have repeatedly testified about the law being vague and dangerous. And she said this is just a case of Ohio Right to Life putting up a smokescreen to hide their extreme agenda.

“They are always trying to put up a smokescreen to hide their true agenda which is to ban abortions in all situations even when a person’s health is at stake. And they’ve never care, not one bit, about the harm it will do to people,” Copeland said.

Doctors who testified against the new law, which is now on temporary hold by a Hamilton County Court, have said the D&C procedure that is used in later term abortions is also commonly used to treat women who have had miscarriages. In hours of testimony when the law was under considerations, doctors repeatedly testified it was vague and could put women's lives and health in danger.

Whitmarsh said she thinks the law that was in place in September clearly allows doctors to deal with potentially dangerous medical conditions like miscarriages.

“There is nowhere in Ohio law that it prevents a doctor from caring for a woman suffering from a miscarriage or any other life-threatening situation and anyone claiming otherwise is either ignorant of the law or they have blatant, nefarious motives,” Whitmarsh said.

And while Whitmarsh said the law is clear, she said she’s open to the legislature going back and inserting language to clarify it.

And the leader of the Ohio Senate, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), told reporters Wednesday that he is suggesting lawmakers do that.

“We think we can make the heartbeat bill better by getting better definitions, things I think that weren’t really contemplated when it was passed a few years ago, and we’ll also have additional action in that bill regarding foster care adoption, crisis pregnancy centers, a whole number of other things,” Huffman said.

There are also other bills in the legislature that would restrict abortion even further, including one that would ban it. Huffman said how far the senate gets with its effort to clarify the heartbeat bill remains to be seen.

Contact Jo Ingles at
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