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Ohio lawmakers differ on how to change abortion policies to comply with new amendment

The amendment approved by voters Tuesday enshrines abortion rights into the state’s founding document. And the passage of Issue 1 means some Ohio’s laws will no longer be enforceable or might need to change.

Ohio lawmakers have different ideas about how to change abortion policy to make it constitutional when the change goes into effect nearly a month from now.

Two House Democrats, who are also medical doctors, are calling for changes. Dr. Beth Liston (D-Dublin) and Dr. Anita Somani (D-Dublin) said their “Reproductive Care Act” will repeal existing statutes that restrict abortion, thereby making it harder for people to obtain the procedure.

“Ohioans spoke and we heard their message loud and clear,” Liston said.

The amendment itself doesn’t change any laws. But it does change the constitutional standard for judging existing laws and those yet to pass. Liston said lawmakers need to address the more than 30 laws now on the books that are no longer constitutional following Tuesday’s vote. And Liston said that includes the 2019 ban on abortion after six weeks, which is on hold while under consideration by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Effect on “TRAP” laws

Liston and Somani said the act they are sponsoring will do away with what are called as “TRAP laws.” TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws are generally defined as laws that apply to abortion providers that don’t apply to other medical professionals or facilities. One example given is a law that requires an ambulatory clinic that performs abortions to have a transfer agreement on file with a hospital in order to keep their license.

Somali said the 24-hour waiting period required for an abortion is another example of government making it harder for patients seeking abortions over other medical care.

"They don’t need another 24 hours. They don’t need to have two visits to get the care that they need. There is nothing that - a vasectomy doesn’t require that,” Somani said.

The act would also allow doctors to prescribe abortion medication and reproductive care via a telehealth visit.

Other changes in the act

Somani said the new constitutional language will help women who have to travel long distances for abortion options because they live in what she calls “health care deserts.” And she said it will protect medical colleges and keep doctors trained in Ohio.

“A recent analysis by the American Association of Medical Colleges found that new doctors applying for residency programs avoid states with the strictest abortion laws,” Somani said. “Doctors often live where they train so the passage of Issue 1 and the Reproductive Care Act will help us recruit more physicians to Ohio for training and to ultimately settle down here.”

The act also contains language to protect people seeking reproductive care from being discriminated against, to prohibit sharing patient records and data, and to protect health care providers from civil, criminal and professional disciplinary action.

GOP lawmakers calling for changes too

Leaders of the Republican-dominated legislature who opposed Issue 1 have come out saying they want changes too. But they haven’t been specific about what they want to change. And repeated calls placed to get reaction to this latest proposal by the Democrats were not returned.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said in a statement Tuesday night: “This isn't the end. It is really just the beginning of a revolving door of ballot campaigns to repeal or replace Issue 1."

The next day, 27 House Republicans who make up what they call the Pro-Life Caucus put out a letter saying the amendment voters passed was vague.

“We will do everything in our power to prevent our laws from being removed based upon perception of intent,” the letter read.

Gov. Mike DeWine, who has been a staunch opponent of abortion and tried to persuade Ohioans to vote against Issue 1, is saying the voters have spoken. He said he still believes most people fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to abortion and thinks the amendment goes too far. But he also said he thinks many Ohioans feel the six-week ban that he signed into law, which didn’t have exceptions for rape and incest, also went too far.

“People of the state will want to take a look at, once this [amendment] goes into effect, they will have the opportunity to make a decision and to continue to judge how it is, in fact, working,” DeWine said.

At this point, DeWine is not advocating for another amendment to be put on the ballot to undo the one that passed Tuesday.

It’s possible there will be court battles over whether current laws are now constitutional. But Liston said there’s shouldn’t have to be.

“Ohioans shouldn’t have to go to court to exercise a constitutional right,” Liston said.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.