COLUMBUS A bill that would ban abortions because the fetus might have Down syndrome is one step closer to being in signed into law.
Senate Bill was approved by a 12-6 party-line vote this week by the House Health Committee, advancing it to a full House vote.
The bill would prevent anyone from performing or attempting to perform or induce an abortion because the fetus has or might have Down syndrome. Violators would face a fourth-degree felony and the state medical board would be required to take away a convicted physician’s license to practice medicine in Ohio.
“To me, this a matter of medical ethics,” said Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s a matter of what kind of society do we want to have here in the state of Ohio.”
The bill passed overwhelmingly last month in the Senate.
Two amendments were added to the bill last month: No public funds would be used to defend the ban if it’s challenged in court; and women should not be compelled to share why they are having an abortion.
Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, inquired what the legal proceeding of the bill would look like if it were to be signed into law.
“This is a challenging matter for enforcement,” LaRose answered.
Sykes pressed LaRose, asking how someone would prove the reason for the abortion is Down syndrome.
“Is it an inclination? Is it a feeling? Is it a conversation maybe overheard?” Sykes asked.
In response, LaRose acknowledged a prosecution in a case like this would be difficult.
“This bill prevents a woman from having honest conversations about her options with her physician — especially following a complicated medical diagnosis. This legislation criminalizes those important conversations and callously disregards the unique circumstances that surround each woman’s pregnancy,” NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said in a statement.
This abortion legislation is Ohio’s Right to Life’s top priority this year.
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused when abnormal cell division results in an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition in the United States and about 1 in 700 babies are born with it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An almost identical bill passed with ease last month in the House.
Also making its way through the House is the unrelated Heartbeat Bill, which would forbid abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically about six weeks into pregnancy. Reps. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance, and Ron Hood, R-Ashville, are that bill’s sponsors.
Various organizations including ACLU of Ohio, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and National Council of Jewish Women oppose the Heartbeat Bill. Eight people, including a 13-year-old girl and an Iraq War veteran, spoke out against the bill during Wednesday’s committee meeting.
“By banning abortion at a point in pregnancy before most people even realize they are pregnant, it will block nearly all access to abortion care in our state,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Deputy Director Jamie Miracle.
The bill has now been offered in four consecutive sessions of the General Assembly. The first time, the bill made it through the Ohio House but stalled in the Senate. The second time, the bill did not gain the needed support to advance.
In 2016, the Ohio House approved the Heartbeat Bill, and Republican senators added the measure to unrelated legislation during their final voting sessions of the year. Gov. John Kasich used his line-item-veto authority to stop the Heartbeat Bill amendment, instead choosing to sign a separate 20-week abortion ban that was favored by Ohio Right to Life.
Megan Henry is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau.