Urbana lawmaker co-sponsors abortion bill in Ohio

Protesters for both sides of the abortion issue gathered at a 2017 Planned Parenthood demonstration in downtown Dayton. House Bill 585, introduced March 19, could outlaw the procedure in Ohio if passed. JORDYN HUFFMAN / STAFF

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Protesters for both sides of the abortion issue gathered at a 2017 Planned Parenthood demonstration in downtown Dayton. House Bill 585, introduced March 19, could outlaw the procedure in Ohio if passed. JORDYN HUFFMAN / STAFF

A state lawmaker from Champaign County has introduced a controversial abortion bill in the Ohio Statehouse which could have the potential to resonate nationally.

House Bill 565, which was introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives in March and co-sponsored by Rep. Nino Vitale of Urbana, would outlaw abortion in the Buckeye State, even in circumstances such as rape, incest or if the pregnancy would endanger a woman’s life.

Vitale said he and Rep. Ron Hood of Ashville worked on the bill jointly for 11 months before presenting it in the Statehouse. The 284-page bill was intended to be short, he said, but it grew as he and Hood looked through the Ohio revised code and found “inconsistencies.”

“We had to strike portions of the code that state abortion is a right,” he said.

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Under the bill, an “unborn human” would be considered a person under Ohio’s criminal code regarding homicide, which would allow criminal charges to be filed against women who receive abortions and the doctors who provide them, possibly allowing them to receive sentences including capital punishment.

Vitale said the bill’s aim is to put an end to attempts to regulate abortion by eliminating it entirely.

“It establishes a baby as a person and that it has the same rights to life as any other person does,” he said.

Only 18 other representatives have signed on to the bill, but Vitale said there is wide support for it in the Statehouse.

“There have been several people who approached me once the bill was made public,” he said. “Several of them said if they had known the details about it beforehand, they would have signed on sooner.”

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But there are Republican members of the Ohio House who say some of bill’s details are vague.

Rep. Kyle Koehler of Springfield said there are still several questions he has about the legislation, mostly surrounding what would happen to a woman who had an abortion in an extenuating circumstance.

“I’m concerned for the woman being charged if she’s being pressured by a husband or a boyfriend to have an abortion,” he said. “Or what about the mother who may have taken drugs or alcohol and has a spontaneous miscarriage? I haven’t gotten those answers from the bill’s sponsors yet.”

Koehler said he isn’t sure about the future of the bill unless those questions are answered.

“Everyone who knows me knows where I stand,” he said. “But I think if mothers could be charged in cases like those, there are gonna be a lot of people that say ‘wait a minute.’”

Critics argue the legislation reaches too far in its scope and hurts women more than it protects life.

Kellie Copeland, the executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said the provisions of the bill are too extreme to allow.

“It makes it so people can face the death penalty,” she said. “I think that speaks for itself in terms of impact.”

Copeland said she feels the bill attacks both doctors and women, leaving them disadvantaged.

“More than 60 percent of women who seek to have an abortion already have children,” she said. “This is Ohio seeking out ways to punish pregnant women and doctors in the state.”

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Danielle Craig, vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, said in a statement the bill is an infringement on a woman’s basic rights.

“This bill is the worst intrusion on a woman’s reproductive rights by the Ohio legislature to date,” she wrote. “It is blatantly unconstitutional and Ohio taxpayers will be forced to spend millions to defend it in court. The decision about whether or not to have an abortion should be left to a woman and her physician or medical provider. Period.”

Copeland said she believes the bill and others like it which have come through the Ohio Statehouse in recent years is an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision which established most laws against abortion violate a constitutional right to privacy.

If the issue were taken before the Supreme Court, it wouldn’t be the first case to challenge a core principal of the case.

In 2003, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush after similar bills were vetoed by President Bill Clinton in 1995 and 1997. The law, which bans abortions within the second trimester, was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007 when its constitutionality was challenged.

HB 565 is the latest in a series of measures proposed by state lawmakers aimed at setting stricter rules around abortion in Ohio. In 2016, Gov. John Kasich vetoed the “heartbeat bill” — legislation both Vitale and Koehler sponsored — which outlawed abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected. In the same year, however, Kasich approved a law that bans the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy, eliminating the need for tests previously required in a law he signed in 2011.

Views on abortions overall have left Ohioans split in the past. According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2014, 48 percent of respondents believed it should be legal in all cases, while 47 percent believed it should be outlawed.

Other states have also recently passed bills forming new rules around abortion. In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1510 — which bans abortions after 15 weeks — into law on the same day HB 565 was introduced in Ohio. The Mississippi law is presently among the tightest restrictions in the nation.

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In 2013, a poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found 70 percent of Americans were opposed to Roe v. Wade being overturned. But analysis conducted by Pew in the same year found 53 percent of respondents viewed the topic overall was less important when compared to other issues, a 21 percent increase over when the same question was asked in 2006.

A 2017 Gallup poll showed 50 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal, but only under certain circumstances.

Copeland said NARAL and other pro-choice groups in Ohio plan on protesting the bill and will work with legislators in order to fight its passage. If it makes it past the governor’s desk, she said, it is likely several groups will contest it.

“I can’t imagine a scenario where this isn’t challenged in a court of law,” Copeland said.

Vitale said he wouldn’t be surprised by a legal case if the bill were passed.

“Of course it’s going to be contested,” he said. “Any highly contentious law will always be challenged in court. But to any critics of the bill, I would ask ‘have you seen an abortion?’ It’s extreme to kill a child. It’s not extreme to protect life.”

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