Ohio ‘born alive’ abortion bill would add felony charges

A bill that would make it a first-degree felony to not provide newborn medical care to an infant born alive after an attempted abortion passed the Ohio Senate on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 157 — sponsored by Sens. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, and Terry Johnson, R-McDermott — is one of several “born alive” bills introduced in various states. Some have passed it, and a similar bill has been introduced several times at the federal level.

Senate Bill 157 expands “abortion manslaughter” to include failing to try to keep an infant alive after an attempted abortion. Doctors who did not do so, such as by transferring an infant to a hospital, would be charged with a first-degree felony.

It would also require abortion providers to fill out a child survival form and make monthly reports to the state.

The bill pass the Senate on a party-line 25-6 vote Wednesday. It now heads to the Ohio House.

Its passage was hailed by Ohio Right to Life, which had testified in its favor at previous committee hearings.

“Ohio Right to Life applauds Senator Huffman and Senator Johnson, both of whom are licensed physicians in Ohio, for their incredible pro-life leadership,” Ohio Right to Life Director of Communications Allie Frazier said. “No baby in Ohio, regardless of the circumstances surrounding of their birth, should be left alone to die. This vital anti-infanticide legislation will ensure that no baby who survives a botched abortion is denied life-saving care.”

The only person who testified on the bill at a committee hearing earlier in the day Wednesday was Gabriel Mann, communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. He told of a family losing a nonviable pregnancy in the same hospital where his wife was giving birth. All that family wanted was privacy with the infant they knew would not survive, but SB 157 would demand medical intervention instead, Mann said.

He reiterated that in a statement issued after the bill’s Senate passage.

“Senate Bill 157 is a misleading bill sponsored by the same politicians trying to ban all abortions,” Mann said. “This bill will harm families who have experienced an early labor or made the difficult decision to end a pregnancy after receiving a fatal fetal diagnosis or in order to protect the health and life of the pregnant person. Instead of allowing parents to hold babies that only have a few precious moments to live, it would force doctors to take them away and administer futile treatment, denying families the little time they have.”

Huffman and Johnson, both physicians, introduced SB 157 in April. Johnson said the Senate passed an earlier version of the bill in its last session but it never got out of House committee.

In his initial committee testimony, Johnson said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention found at least 143 infants died nationwide following an attempted abortion in a 12-year span.

During the committee hearing, member state Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, said existing laws guarantee that doctors provide all appropriate care for infants.

“Would someone please explain what this bill would require that is not already required?” he said. He didn’t get an answer then, so he asked again during the Senate session.

Thomas said he has seen no evidence of doctors standing by and letting infants die untreated.

In 2020, 20,605 abortions were performed in Ohio, according to a state report released in September. About half of all Ohio abortions were chemically induced rather than surgical.

About 2% of those abortions — 451 — were obtained after more than 18 weeks gestation, according to the report.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 5% of infants born before 23 weeks gestation will survive. Survival chances do not increase to 50% until 24 weeks, and then a majority will be “moderately or severely impaired.”

Sen. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus, who also opposed the bill in committee, said it would intimidate doctors and discourage women from seeking legal abortions. It’s deeply opposed by many medical organizations, he said.

Government Oversight & Reform Committee vice-chair Sen. Rob McCauley, R-Napoleon, successfully sought to amend the bill with a provision to ban anyone who receives compensation from a public medical school in Ohio from having an infant transferred from an abortion clinic to their care.

The amendment appears to target at least one of the state’s six surgical abortion clinics: the Women’s Med Center of Dayton.

The Dayton clinic operates under variances from the law that requires a surgical abortion clinic to have an emergency-care agreement with a local hospital. The variances list local doctors available for those services instead.

Sen. Niraj. Antani, R-Miamisburg, singled out the Women’s Med Center in Dayton as the target for the amendment. It has “skirted this law for many years,” he said, referring to the hospital agreement stipulation.

“Right now, on their variance, are listed employees of Wright State University — a public university funded by tax dollars,” Antani said.

Requests for comment from Women’s Med Center and Wright State weren’t immediately returned.

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