The League of Women Voters of the Greater Dayton Area, which hosted the Tuesday forum, stressed that it wasn’t a debate and wouldn’t feature advocacy for one side or the other. Instead, the goal was to answer questions circulating on Ohio’s airwaves ahead of the historic vote.
Here are some key takeaways from the forum, which featured local primary care physician Dr. Katherine Lambes and Cedarville University legal professor Marc Clauson.
1. Many Issue 1 specifics to be determined by courts
There are several points in Issue 1′s official language that Clauson and other legal scholars say are vague and, depending on a court’s interpretation, would have a substantial impact on how far Issue 1′s protections actually go.
Take, for example, the use of the word “individual,” in the amendment’s opening sentence: “Every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions…” Clauson said a court could interpret “individual” to mean anybody, or it could interpret it to mean any adult — a distinction that could play a critical role in how Issue 1 could affect Ohio’s parental consent laws regarding abortion.
“At this point, if the amendment passes, we simply wouldn’t know until a case comes to the court to decide,” Clauson said. It was a theme repeated on various points, including what actually will constitute fetal viability in Ohio under the amendment, what power the state will have to regulate abortions, and what sort of health situations could necessitate abortions after fetal viability.
2. Parental consent rules could change
In Clauson’s interpretation, Issue 1 would likely nullify Ohio’s law that requires a minor to get permission from at least one parent in order to get an abortion; but Lambes said there’s a strong preference among doctors for parents to be involved.
“Again, not knowing for sure what a court would decide, (Issue 1) gives the individual who desires the abortion an almost-completely unrestricted right without any parental consent and without anything else needed; they just need to get permission from their doctor, that’s pretty much it,” Clauson said.
This has been a point of contention. Backers of Issue 1 note that Issue 1 makes no reference to parental consent and argue that parental rights pertaining to a minor’s abortion would remain the same.
Lambes explained that, under current law, minors can receive limited abortion consultation from doctors without parental consent but they are barred from prescribing abortive medications or performing abortion procedures unless the minor gets consent from a parent or legal guardian, or receives a judicial bypass.
Regarding consultations, Lambes said, “The first person you want to get involved is the parent.”
“As a professional, that is what most pediatricians and family providers are doing. They want to involve the parents first, they know that that’s going to be the best course of action when everybody is on the same page,” Lambes said. She noted that in 15 years of her practice she’s never had to begin treatments without a parent’s consent.
3. Under Issue 1, fetal viability could be around 24 weeks
Issue 1 would allow the state to ban abortions after the point in pregnancy when “the fetus has a significant likelihood of survival outside the uterus with reasonable measures,” and says that point is determined on a case-by-case basis by the mother’s treating physician.
In effect, this means Ohio’s cutoff point for abortions would generally be right around the medical community’s understanding of fetal viability, which Lambes said is after 24 weeks. Lambes said fetuses at 24 to 25 weeks have a chance at survival outside of the uterus but often experience “high concentrations” of morbidities and disabilities. Lambes stressed that the survival of fetuses at the stage of pregnancy is largely dependent on what level of care a fetus could actually receive.
“Speaking medically, viability is different whether you’re in a different country, whether you’re in a different state, you might be in a different county — viability may change based on what is technically available,” Lambes said.
Clauson said this medical definition will be the starting point for Ohio’s legal definition of the fetal viability, which he expects to come through an array of court cases if Issue 1 were to pass. Clauson said Ohio’s definition of fetal viability might look different than other states’.