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.

An Ohio law signed by Gov. Mike DeWine this year requires fetal remains that are a result of surgical abortions to be cremated or buried, and a bill that passed both chambers and is awaiting the governor’s signature would ban the use of telemedicine to complete medical abortions.

Both Senate Bills 27 and 260 received local backing, as State Senators Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction) and Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster), whose districts (District 30 and 20, respectively) represent portions of Athens County, co-sponsored both.

“Look; life is very important to me,” Hoagland said in an emailed statement in regard to his co-sponsorship of the bills. “I have seen enough death and I understand that what God gives to us should be cherished and protected. We as humanity should cherish life from beginning to end!”

State Sen. Schaffer did not return a request for comment.

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. The law is set to take effect in April.

Anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life praised the passage of the bill.

“Ohio Right to Life is incredibly proud to see this vital piece of pro-life legislation signed into law,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of the coalition, in a press release. “Human life is precious and deserves to be both respected and protected.”

The ACLU of Ohio’s chief lobbyist Gary Daniels wrote in his Dec. 3 testimony opposing the bill that it's “nothing more than legislative harassment,” as it only applies to surgical, rather than medical, abortions, and doesn't include language about miscarriages and stillbirths.

“SB 27 is yet another hurdle, yet another expense, yet another attempt to shame those who seek abortions,” Daniels wrote.

Iris Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, echoed that sentiment, calling the bill “logistically a nightmare” since fetal remains could consist of tiny, even microscopic, bits of tissue.

Some abortion-rights groups have pointed to issues of privacy potentially surrounding this new law. If officials at the Ohio Department of Health 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, and ODH has not ruled on the matter yet.

Another bill that passed in both chambers last year concerning abortion and telemedicine was sent off to the governor’s desk, but hasn't been signed. DeWine hasn't publicly indicated whether he intends to rubber stamp the bill, but he has a long history of opposing abortion rights.

SB 260 would ban doctors from using telemedicine to prescribe abortion medication to patients. If passed, Doctors who violate it could face felony charges, according to the bill.

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 would prohibit abortion providers from prescribing the first dose remotely. 

Supporters of the bill point 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.

Harvey noted that several burdens to getting an abortion already exist in Ohio. For example, women seeking abortion must stagger visits into two meetings with the same health care provider. In the first meeting, the patient is given state-published literature describing abortions, listing agencies that provide alternatives to abortion, and the patient receives an ultrasound.

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.

Harvey also noted telemedicine abortion services are utilized in Southeast Ohio, even with a lack of reliable internet access across the region.

“These measures are in place not to protect the health of people, but to stigmatize,” Harvey said. “However you feel, politicians should not be stigmatizing.”

The law and pending bill come after Gov. Mike 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. The law would have State Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) and State Sen. Hoagland voted in favor of this bill.

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