COLUMBUS — After a lengthy, emotional debate, the Ohio House approved a controversial bill Wednesday that would ban abortions performed because the fetus might have Down syndrome.
The vote was 63-30. The measure, Ohio Right to Life’s top legislative priority this year, now goes to the Senate, where an identical bill already is pending.
The anti-abortion rights group’s president, Mike Gonidakis, said, "Today’s vote is a vote against modern-day eugenics, plain and simple. After seeing the horrors of eugenics play out in the 20th century, it is appalling that this legislation is even up for debate."
House Bill 214, sponsored by Reps. Sarah LaTourette, R-Chesterland, and Derek Merrin, had passed in the Ohio House Health Committee just last week on a party-line vote.
The measure would prohibit a person from performing or attempting to perform or induce an abortion on a woman whose unborn child 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.
?Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition in the United States; about one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Termination rates following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome ranged from 67 to 85 percent depending on maternal age, race and ethnicity, and gestational age, according to a review published in 2012.?
LaTourette said her bill has been criticized for potentially damaging the relationship between a woman and her doctor.
"I believe it does the exact opposite," she said.
Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron, disagrees.
"This bill will totally offend this relationship, not allowing honest discourse between a physician and patient," Sykes said.
?Seven states — Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Dakota — ban abortions for sex selection. Arizona enacted legislation prohibiting a woman from receiving an abortion because of race. In 2013, North Dakota became the first state to prohibit abortions in cases of genetic abnormality.? An Indiana ban similar to the one being considered in Ohio is tied up in the courts.
?In March 2016, then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a law that prohibits abortions sought solely because a fetus had been potentially diagnosed with a disability such as Down syndrome. However, a U.S. District Court suspended the law from taking effect months after Pence signed it, ruling that its provisions violate the U.S. Constitution. That ruling is under appeal.?
Meanwhile, a separate abortion bill identical to one Gov. John Kasich vetoed less than 12 months ago had its first hearing Wednesday morning in the Ohio House Health Committee.
Dubbed the Heartbeat Bill, House Bill 258 would forbid abortions once a heartbeat is detected, typically about six weeks into pregnancy.
"This is an issue that is robust with passion, compassion and the potential to save many lives of the unborn," said Rep. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance, one of the bill’s sponsors. Rep. Ron Hood, R-Ashville, is the bill’s co-sponsor.
The bill has been offered now 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 was unable to gain the required 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. Kasich, however, used his line-item-veto authority to stop the Heartbeat Bill amendment, instead opting to sign a separate 20-week abortion ban that was favored by Ohio Right to Life.
"Biology is crystal clear that at the moment of conception, a unique organism comes into existence," Hagan said. "Since this new life possesses human DNA and is the offspring of human parents, it can legitimately only be described as human life."
Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, said Hagan’s testimony was "full of accusations, assumptions and non-scientific information."
Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, asked Hagan if she personally believes the legislature has the right to tell people, especially women, what to do with their bodies.
"I think the question is obviously intentionally crafted to get me to say to the wrong thing or what you would want me to say. That’s not going to happen," Hagan said. "I believe that every person deserves the right to personal autonomy and informed medical consent, and that includes the child in utero."
A bill that would criminalize blocking access to reproductive health care received a first hearing Wednesday in the House Criminal Justice Committee without questions. House Bill 234 is sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, and Lepore-Hagan.
"This is about respecting people’s rights to a constitutionally protected medical procedure without fear," Howse said.
Megan Henry is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau.