People participated in a local version of the national "Stop the Bans" demonstration at the Athens County Courthouse against anti-abortion restrictions passed in many states in 2019. Photo by Conor Morris.

Two Ohio laws signed by Gov. Mike DeWine — one that requires fetal remains that are a result of surgical abortions to be cremated or buried, one that would ban the use of telemedicine to carry out abortion services — have been challenged in the state’s court system by abortion rights and civil rights advocacy groups.

This week, an Ohio judge granted a preliminary injunction, temporarily halting the enforcement of the law that resulted from Senate Bill 27, which was set to take effect on April 9.

This decision follows a lawsuit filed last month by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the ACLU and ACLU of Ohio. The complaint filed in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas requested a court order that clinics not be exposed to penalties under the bill.

SB 27, also called the “The Unborn Child Dignity Act,” requires any fetal tissue from a surgical abortion to be buried or cremated. Prior to the procedure, the patient will be informed that they can choose a location for the remains. In the event that they don’t select one, providers are required to choose and pay for burial or cremation. Failure to comply could result in a first-degree misdemeanor charge, according to the bill’s language.

A press release issued by the ACLU of Ohio and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America stated that the Ohio Department of Health has failed “to establish or issue necessary rules and regulations” in regard to the law, which Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio President and CEO Iris Harvey previously described to The NEWS as being a “logistically a nightmare.”

“There is a history of aggressive enforcement against abortion providers in Ohio, and this ruling ensures that abortion providers are not vulnerable to severe sanctions, fines and penalties, including potential license revocation, during this interim period as we await final rules and regulations from the Ohio Department of Health,” ACLU of Ohio and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America stated in a press release.

Senate Bills 27 and 260 received local backing, as State Senators Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction) and Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster), whose districts (30 and 20, respectively) represent portions of Athens County, serving as the bills' co-sponsors.

Anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life responded to the lawsuit.

“Requiring the broken bodies of abortion victims to be humanely buried is simply common decency,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of the coalition, in a press release. “The abortion industry’s desire to deny the innocent unborn even the right to a proper burial reveals where their allegiances lie: not with basic decency, but with their bottom line.”

Some abortion-rights groups have pointed to issues of privacy potentially surrounding this new law. If officials at ODH require a death certificate for an aborted fetus, that information could be available to anyone who seeks it, as death certificates are public record. The text of the law does not specify whether abortions will require a death certificate.

ODH has not provided clarification on that item.

Similarly, Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed a lawsuit last week in regard to SB 260, which was signed by DeWine in January. SB 260 would ban doctors from using telemedicine to prescribe abortion medication to patients. Doctors who violate it could face felony charges, according to the bill.

The law was set to take effect on April 12, but a two-week temporary restraining order that blocks the enforcement of the ban in the state was granted on Tuesday.

“We’re taking them to court to make sure that our patients can access medication abortion — a safe, effective, and vital part of reproductive health — without the added burdens of travel and time,” Harvey said in a Planned Parenthood press release. “It’s already hard for people to access abortion services because of more than a decade of attacks by extreme anti-abortion forces in Ohio. We’ll never stop fighting to change that.”

Medical abortion is legal in Ohio until 10 weeks after the first day of a woman’s most recent period. It’s done using two drugs given roughly two days apart. SB 260 prohibits abortion providers from prescribing the first dose remotely.

During its proposal, supporters of the bill pointed to Food and Drug Administration regulations that require the first pill to be dispensed in a clinical setting, such as a doctor’s office or hospital, while telemedicine patients often see the doctor from the comfort of their home.

“No woman should have to suffer through a chemical abortion possibly hours away from medical help simply because the telemed process is cheaper for Planned Parenthood,” Gonidakis said in a press release.

In Ohio, about 93 percent of counties are without an abortion clinic, meaning many women seeking one must travel out of county, according to reproductive health non-profit the Guttmacher Institute. Harvey noted the lack of facilities in the state provides a time and transportation burden for many patients, especially those living in rural communities.

The two laws come after Gov. DeWine signed a “heartbeat bill” in 2019 that was ultimately blocked by a federal judge. It would have banned abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy punished doctors with felony charges for performing the procedures. There were exceptions to save the life of a woman, but none for rape or incest. State Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) and Hoagland voted in favor of it.

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