Columbus, Ohio — The Ohio Legislature has sent two abortion bills to Gov. John Kasich for his signature.
On Dec. 8, lawmakers passed a measure to ban abortions in the state after 20 weeks, or five months of pregnancy. On Dec. 6, they approved legislation that would ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is usually at about the sixth week of pregnancy.
Current law bans abortions after a fetus has begun its 20th week of gestation, unless a doctor determines that the fetus isn't viable outside the womb. The latest measure, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, or S.B. 127 — would eliminate the viability test and simply ban abortions past 20 weeks. The current exception for the woman's health would still apply.
"The bold pro-life action taken by the Ohio Legislature is reflective of the message the voters sent on Election Day, and that is a rejection of the status quo," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Washington-based Susan B. Anthony List.
"Americans reject the status quo of abortion on-demand, especially painful late-term abortions," she said in a Dec. 8 statement. "Instead, voters and lawmakers are recognizing the humanity of the unborn child: its heartbeat around six weeks and the pain the child can feel at 20 weeks."
Once the bills reach Kasich's desk, he will have 10 days to decide whether to sign or veto them. If he vetoes them, three-fifths of the state House and Senate would have to vote to override the veto.
The American Civil Liberties and the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio objected to the measures
"For the second time in a week, the Ohio Legislature has inserted itself into women's private and personal health care decisions," said Iris E. Harvey, Planned Parenthood's president and CEO. "These bans are a deliberate attempt to make abortion illegal in the state of Ohio."
Dannenfelser said: "Both the heartbeat bill and the Pain-Capable bill aim to humanize our law. Should either of these bills land in the courts, the courts should take the opportunity to catch our laws up with public opinion, science and basic human decency."
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri filed a federal lawsuit Nov. 30, asking the court to stop state laws that require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and upgrade their facilities to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. Similar lawsuits were filed in Alaska and North Carolina.
The lawsuits followed a U.S. Supreme Court 5-3 decision in June that struck down similar abortion laws in Texas, but pro-life advocates in Missouri believe their state's laws will be upheld as constitutional.
"We are not surprised by this lawsuit but are hopeful that Missouri law will in fact be upheld because of its distinction from Texas law," said Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's Catholic bishops. "The MCC will continue to support pro-life legislation in the coming session as it has for the past 50 years."
Missouri was the first state in the nation to enact such laws since the Roe v. Wade decision. Pro-life advocates say they serve as safety measures to protect women who seek services at abortion clinics. If Missouri's laws are struck down, Planned Parenthood's in Springfield, Joplin, Columbia and Kansas City would be able to offer abortions. Right now, Planned Parenthood's St. Louis clinic is the only location in Missouri to provide abortions.
"No abortion clinic will ever be safe for unborn children, but the common-sense safety requirements Planned Parenthood is challenging are designed to protect women from undue harm at the hands of abortion providers," said Karen Nolkemper, executive director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate.
"In its June decision, the court spoke clearly, finding that admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements only fulfill one agenda — to keep women from accessing a constitutionally protected medical procedure. The time has come to strike down these unnecessary restrictions in Missouri," according to a statement from Planned Parenthood.
In Missouri, abortion clinics that perform five or more first-trimester, or any second- or third-trimester abortions in a month are required to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, and provide standard medical services, such as having CPR-trained personnel on site and a physician on the premises and immediately available to the patient in the recovery room. Clinics also are open to inspection from the Department of Health and Senior Services.
In 2015, a manager with the state's Department of Health and Senior Services told a state Senate committee that during an earlier inspection of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, the department discovered that not all pathology reports were being sent to the department as required by law.
Planned Parenthood was given time to correct the deficiency, but no other action was taken. In 2013, the department's inspection of the clinic found several violations, such as expired drugs, "copious amounts of visible dust" in exam rooms and rust on equipment.
Missouri also passed a law in 2005 that requires all doctors who perform abortions to have lower-level clinical privileges at a hospital within a 30-minute distance from where the abortion is performed. In Texas, the law was more stringent, spelling out that the abortion doctor must have "active admitting privileges" at hospital within 30 miles of where the abortion is performed.
Missouri's ambulatory surgical center regulations enacted in the mid-1980s — but applying to all abortion facilities only since a law change in 2007 — separately require that abortion doctors have staff privileges at hospital within a 15-minute travel time or that there is a working arrangement between a hospital and the facility no more than 15 minutes away to provide emergency treatment to patients.
"It's astounding that Planned Parenthood claims (abortion) is for the health of women when it could have the exact opposite effect," said Deacon Sam Lee, a pro-life lobbyist with Campaign Life Missouri. "If their lawsuit is successful, that would mean the Department of Health and Senior Services could no longer go in and inspect these clinics. Other ambulatory surgical centers, such as urgent care centers and birthing centers, are subject to these inspections.
"This would carve out an exception for abortion clinics," Lee said.
Editor’s note: Jennifer Brinker in St. Louis contributed to this story.