Debate continues over ‘born alive’ abortion bill

Proponents of 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 say is necessary to keep pace with medical advancements that make pregnancies viable earlier.

But opponents say it’s misleading, that most late-term abortions are already banned in Ohio and instead will harm families grieving the loss of nonviable pregnancies.

Senate Bill 157 expands “abortion manslaughter” to include failing to try to keep an infant alive after an attempted abortion, such as by transferring an infant to a hospital.

Sponsors of the so-called “born alive” bill are state Sens. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, and Terry Johnson, R-McDermott. They, along with anti-abortion groups, have touted SB 157, which got its first hearing last week in an Ohio House committee. It passed the Ohio Senate on a party-line vote in late October.

Several bill proponents strongly favored one provision, an amendment added by Sen. Rob McCauley, R-Napoleon. It would ban anyone who receives compensation from a public medical school in Ohio from having an infant transferred from an abortion clinic to their care.

They acknowledged that it targets one of the state’s six surgical abortion clinics: the Women’s Med Center in Kettering. It operates under a variance from the law that requires a surgical abortion clinic to have an emergency-care agreement with a local hospital. The variance instead allows that provision to be fulfilled by a doctor associated with Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine.

Johnson said a U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention report found at least 143 infants died nationwide following an attempted abortion in a 12-year span. Medical science is constantly improving, so fetuses not considered viable in the past may be so in a few years.

“This bill doesn’t only apply to today, it applies to the future,” he said.

Also, the Republican supermajority in both houses of the General Assembly can currently pass a “born alive” bill. In another decade the political balance might shift, so Johnson said backers want to pass it now.

“The intent is to have safer abortions,” said Huffman, who’s also a physician. If one doctor performs multiple abortions that result in a live birth each year, that should be known, he said.

The legislation would require medical providers to fill out a “child survival form” for any fetus delivered alive during an attempted abortion, and to make monthly reports to the state. Failure to complete that paperwork would be a third-degree felony.

That reporting requirement will establish solid data for Ohio on where and how often that happens, Huffman said.

“Maybe it’s not a problem in Ohio,” he said. Despite the lack of local data, accounts from other states indicate it happens, Huffman and Johnson said.

The child survival form would not be public record, said Mary Parker of Ohio Right to Life. Nine other states have similar reporting requirements, she said.

Committee member state Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin, noted that abortion is illegal in Ohio more than 21 weeks and six days after the mother’s last menstrual period, except when doctors agree her life is in danger.

Margie Christie, executive director of Dayton Right to Life, cited the case of “Baby Grace,” who in 1999 survived a now-illegal partial-birth abortion procedure and was later adopted.

The bill is “not about abortion,” but about care for those who survive it, Christie said.

Pro-choice groups have denounced the legislation. It’s a misleading bill sponsored by the same politicians trying to ban all abortions, said Gabriel Mann, communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

“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,” Mann has said. “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.”

In 2020, there were 20,605 abortions in Ohio, according to a state Department of Health 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.”

Several bill proponents cited Curtis Means, an Alabama child who is the most premature infant ever to survive. He was not born as the result of an attempted abortion.

Means, born July 5, 2020, was born at 21 weeks and one day. His odds of survival were estimated at less than 1%, and he had a twin who didn’t survive. Means needed nine months of hospital care, was on a ventilator for three months and still needs oxygen and a feeding tube. But in April he was deemed healthy enough to go home.

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