A new Ohio law will force women who have surgical abortions to choose between cremating or burying fetal remains, sharpening the state’s definition of “humane” disposal.
The decision, which goes into effect no later than April, has been criticized by abortion rights advocates and praised by pro-life supporters.
“The law is about shaming and stigmatizing abortion and people who have abortions and trying to impose the state’s view of abortion on everyone,” said Jessie Hill, a volunteer attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in Ohio.
Hill said that burials and cremations are often religious ceremonies with deep personal connotations, and that forcing people to treat embryos as humans who have died is offensive and intrusive.
The new law also places unfair restrictions on abortion providers who must pay for the services, Hill said.
Allie Frazier, communications director for the nonprofit Ohio Right to Life, called the law a no-brainer.
“In Ohio, we bury our dead. We are not going to allow unborn children to be callously thrown in the trash and we believe this is a way to help uphold the dignity of not only the innocent human lives taken in an abortion, but also our own humanity,” Frazier said.
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said: "The bodies of all aborted children should be treated with dignity and respect. Sadly, this is not the reality."
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, signed Senate Bill 27 into law on Dec. 30.
Under the new law, women must meet with the physician conducting the surgery at least 24 hours before the procedure. She will also be given reading materials and must sign a consent form before the surgery can take place.
Abortion providers who violate the new law would be subject to a first degree misdemeanor charge, which is punishable by not more than six months in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.
The legislation had been in the works for five years when DeWine, then the state attorney general, investigated Planned Parenthood for practices that would have violated its nonprofit status, a DeWine spokesman, Dan Tierney, said.
Planned Parenthood wasn’t cited for any violations, but state officials found that some abortion clinics were contracting with a company that buried fetal remains in a Kentucky landfill, Tierney said.
“People in Ohio already face major hurdles when accessing reproductive health care, especially safe, legal abortion,” said Kersha Deibel, president of Planned Parenthood in southwest Ohio, NBC4i reported. “The legislature should focus their attention on promoting laws that strengthen the health and rights of Ohioans and their families, especially in the middle of a pandemic, rather than stigmatizing and shaming people for their private medical decisions.”
DeWine did not immediately return a request for comment.
Ohio law has some of the nation's strictest abortion laws, and it already required that an aborted embryo or fetus be disposed of in a humane manner.
Some viewed that language as vague, however. Tierney said the new law spells it out.
“The Ohio General Assembly’s efforts to clarify what constitute humane practices in the disposition of fetal remains will help prevent future inhumane conduct, and that is why Governor DeWine signed this bill,” Tierney wrote in a statement on Monday.
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Benjamin Ray, spokesman for Emily's List, which supports the election of pro-choice Democratic women, called it "the latest in a long line of laws that Republican legislatures have attempted to pass to try and undermine women’s controls of their own bodies."
“This law’s proponents have one agenda," said Iris E. Harvey, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio., "to put another roadblock in front of people who have made a personal decision and want to exercise their right to control over their bodies."
Last year, the state legislature approved the “heartbeat bill,” which bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. It is being challenged in court and has not gone into effect. Under the law, doctors would face up to a year in prison for performing an abortion after detecting a heartbeat.
The bill has an exception to save the life of the pregnant woman, but there is no exception for incest or rape.