Wednesday, December 08, 1999

Legislators vote today on abortion restriction

Ohio House gets measure from panel

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The House Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday recommended a bill that would outlaw late-term abortions, despite concerns by the panel's chairwoman about a similar law that was blocked by a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

        The bill was recommended for passage by the full House by a 10-1 vote, with Democratic Rep. Peter Lawson Jones objecting that the process was moving too quickly. The bill was scheduled for a floor vote in the House today.

        The bill would create the offense of “partial-birth feticide,” a second-degree felony, against doctors who perform it. An exception would be created if the life or health of the mother was at risk.

        The committee chairwoman, Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, introduced a substitute bill at Tuesday's hearing that replaced the term “infanticide” with “feticide.” She said the latter charge would have a better chance of passing constitutional muster.

        On Nov. 30, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens blocked enforcement of similar laws in Illinois and Wisconsin until the high court decides whether to hear objections by Planned Parenthood that the laws violate a woman's right to a legal abortion.

        Ms. Womer Benjamin, an Aurora Republican, said she had hoped the court would resolve the issue before Ohio passed a new measure. But the bill's backers — it has 55 co-sponsors in the 99-member House — said they wanted a vote on the bill.

        “Even in the last week, when it became more apparent that the Supreme Court was going to hear this issue sooner rather than later, the proponents of the bill indicated they wanted to move forward,” Ms. Womer Benjamin said.

        However, she thinks the Ohio bill meets that constitutional question because it does not address the overall right to legal abortion. She also said the bill was written a way that if a court found problems with one issue, it could act on that issue alone.

        “They could excise the part they think objectionable rather than throw out the whole statute,” she said. “We tried to focus on the use of this procedure in only the most dangerous situation.”

        The procedure, known medically as dilation and extraction and to opponents as “partial-birth abortion,” removes a fetus from a woman whose pregnancy is in the third trimester. The procedure involves partial delivery of the fetus through the birth canal. Although a woman's cervix is dilated, the head of the fetus cannot pass through it, so an incision is made in the skull base and the skull's contents are drained.

        Dana Wilkie, Ohio director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said that while abortion opponents were consulted on the bill, her group, which favors keeping abortion legal, was not.


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