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Down syndrome abortion bill headed to governor

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Ohio Gov. John Kasich delivers his State of the State address at the Sandusky State Theatre in Sandusky, Ohio.

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COLUMBUS — The latest legislative restriction on abortion is headed to Gov. John Kasich’s desk.

Solely with Republican votes, the Ohio Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a measure that would prohibit a doctor from performing an abortion if the patient seeks the procedure because she knows or suspects the fetus has the chromosomal defect leading to Down Syndrome.

A House committee also positioned a separate, more controversial bill banning an abortion once a heartbeat is detectable for a possible floor vote once the chamber returns from its holiday recess.

The Down Syndrome bill marks the first time lawmakers have passed a proposed law focusing on the motivation behind an abortion rather than the timing or actual procedure involved.

Women in the Senate audience stood up silently during the vote, each wearing black shirts with white lettering that read, “Stop the bans.”

House Bill 214, sponsored by Reps. Sarah LaTourette (R., Chesterland) and Derek Merrin (R., Monclova Township), could lead to the prosecution of a doctor who proceeds with an abortion after learning of the motivation.

Doctors could face a fourth-degree felony carrying up to a year-and-a-half in prison, the loss of their medical licenses, and potential lawsuits for civil damages. The patients would not face prosecution.

Supporters of the bill present it more as an anti-discrimination measure than an abortion restriction, expressing alarm at statistics showing how often mothers choose to abort after such a diagnosis.

“Both the House and the Senate sent a loud message that we are a society built on compassion, love, equality,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. “We expect Governor Kasich will sign this legislation, as he said he would in 2015. Every Ohioan deserves the right to life, no matter how many chromosomes they have.”

The bill passed by a vote of 20-12 with three Republicans joining the chamber’s nine Democrats, including Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo), in voting “no.” Northwest Ohio Sens. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), Robert McColley (R., Napoleon), Dave Burke (R., Marysville), and Matt Huffman (R., Lima) voted “yes.”

“This is another unconstitutional step toward taking a woman’s right to choose away,” said state Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D., Boardman). “We’ve had 20 new abortion restrictions since 2010 in the state of Ohio, seven bills this year. This one is the most creative by trying to scare doctors from performing this procedure and shaming women in the process.”

Planned Parenthood has organized a Statehouse rally for Thursday to urge the governor not to sign the bill into law.

Separately, the House Health Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 258, the so-called Heartbeat Bill. The measure would require doctors to test for a fetal heartbeat and prohibit an abortion if it is detected.

The bill would have the effect, with few exceptions, of prohibiting an abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Current law generally prohibits an abortion after 20 weeks, the point at which a fetus could be viable outside the womb.

The General Assembly sent a similar bill to Mr. Kasich a year ago at the same time it sent him the 20-week ban. The governor vetoed the Heartbeat Bill, but he signed the 20-week ban. 

Supporters of the Heartbeat Bill have made it clear they are pursuing it and similar measures in other states in hopes of giving the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to undo Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that upheld the constitutionality of abortion.

While Ohio Right to Life opposes the Heartbeat Bill, it argues such a law would be struck down by the high court and set back other anti-abortion rights gains in the process.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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