Bill would protect doctors from 'wrongful birth' suits

3/1/2006
BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The Ohio Senate yesterday voted 23-9 to prohibit lawsuits against doctors who negligently fail to inform a pregnant patient that her unborn child may have profound defects, preventing her from considering an abortion.

One Democrat joined the Republican majority in support of the bill, which Republicans characterized as closing the door in advance to a form of litigation Ohio courts have yet to recognize. Democrats countered that the measure is an assault on a woman's right to choose.

The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments last year in two cases in which women filed "wrongful birth" suits against doctors who failed to indicate through prenatal tests that their fetuses would be born with serious birth defects. The court has yet to rule as to whether the suits may proceed.

"It is simply a question of whether or not a person is better off dead than disabled," said Sen. David Goodman (R., Bexley). "I think it is an atrocious and unacceptable question to ask a jury or a judge, whether they should be playing God, basically."

The provision was added in committee last week by Sen. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana), an ardent pro-life advocate, to an otherwise uncontroversial House bill exempting an Amish-run birthing center in New Bedford from state licensing requirements.

The bill must return to the House for approval of the wrongful birth amendment.

"What this amendment is about is a woman's right to choose, a woman's right to control her own body, a woman's right to have knowledge of what's inside of her," said Senate Minority Leader C.J. Prentiss (D., Cleveland). "You would take that away from her."

Six states, including neighboring Pennsylvania, have adopted prohibitions on wrongful birth suits brought by mothers, or "wrongful life" suits in cases brought by the children living with the defects.

The Ohio bill protects doctors from suits alleging negligence in reading prenatal testings, failing to order such tests, or otherwise missing signs of trouble.

It does not prohibit litigation in cases where a doctor knowingly withholds information from a patient that prevents her from exercising her option of aborting the pregnancy. It also does not prevent malpractice litigation in cases where the abnormalities were caused by the doctor.

Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D., Cleveland), who supports abortion rights, was the only Democrat to join Republicans in support of the bill.

"I didn't see it as a restriction on a woman's right to choose at all," he said. "It simply dealt with the right to bring a lawsuit in the event that a child is born with certain physical abnormalities. That's a cause of action that does not exist in any state in the nation today."

In other legislative action, the Senate Finance Committee yesterday held its first hearing on a bill approving the proposed merger of the University of Toledo and the Medical University of Ohio.

The bill passed the House unanimously two weeks ago and is expected to pass the full Senate before the end of the month. The merger is set to take effect on July 1.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.