Ohio's Fetal Remains Bill Raises Big Questions About Public Records and Intent
A lot of questions are being raised about two bills in the Ohio Legislature that deal with the disposal of aborted fetal remains. Statehouse correspondent Jo Ingles tried to find answers to some of those questions.
The two bills would require aborted remains be buried or cremated and would give the Ohio Department of Health the ability to come up with rules to make sure that happens. Ohio Right to Life’s Mike Gonadakis has been pushing for this legislation.
“The intent of both bills, House Bill 417 and House Bill 419, is to take an otherwise inhumane practice and make it humane.”
Death certificates and public record
Jaime Miracle of NARAL ProChoice Ohio says these are bills that the state’s Republican leaders are pushing for political gain.
“They don’t care what the collateral damage is on these bills. They want to attack Planned Parenthood. They want to attack abortion access in Ohio. And Governor Kasich and his friends in the legislature don’t care who else gets in the way.”
Miracle says the legislation requires women to sign a fetal death certificate, something that is currently offered by the state to women whose pregnancy ends before 20 weeks of gestation.
“Fetal death certificates are actually public record so they include identifying information about the woman, where she lives, where the fetal death occurred.”
And she says making that information public could put some women in danger.
“In the case of domestic violence, an abuser could go and see if his partner had had an abortion and that could be a very dangerous situation for that woman.”
Ohio Right to Life’s President Stephanie Krider has testified her intent is not to gather names of women who get abortions. Republican State Rep. Robert McColley says that’s not his intent either.
“Confidentiality is something we want to maintain. It is something we want to ensure so that is likely one change we will make to the fetal death certificate law.”
But Miracle says she has good reason to be concerned, noting there are anti-abortion groups that now target doctors who provide abortions, approach women entering abortion clinics or try to track down women who get them by taking pictures of license plates that go into clinic parking lots.
Confidentiality isn’t the only issue. One bill says the remains must be buried or cremated while the other adds “incinerated” to the list of possible disposal options. Again, Rep. McColley.
"An abuser could go and see if his partner had had an abortion and that could be a very dangerous situation for that woman."
“I’m not really sure why they decided to include incineration, but we are having discussions on which methods we’d like to pursue and whether it should include incineration or not.”
Some hospitals and the state’s prison system contract with companies that use incineration. The bills also do not spell out what happens to the cremated, buried or possibly incinerated remains. Would caskets be required for burial and would urns required for cremains? What about funeral services or burial plots. The bills, right now, do not answer these questions but McColley says it’s likely the remains won’t need individual burial plots and could end up in a common grave.
“That’s what the Ohio Revised Code currently says is that it can be a common grave. You know we are still working on the details.”
But Gabe Mann with NARAL ProChoice Ohio says those details could cost thousands of dollars that abortion clinics would be required to pay. And that, he says, could make abortion unaffordable for many low income Ohio women.
“All of these are just restrictions aimed at abortion providers, trying to increase costs, trying to add loopholes. None of it is medically necessary.”
McColley says after lawmakers pass the bills, it will be up to the Ohio Department of Health to draw up the specific rules for handling remains. Ohio Right to Life’s Gonadakis says there’s no reason to think the health department would require expensive arrangements because even after the agency writes those rules, a legislative panel would have to approve them.
“They can’t go rogue. We’ve got so many checks and balances built in to help prevent that type of scenario and in the history of the state and the history of covering and monitoring the legislature, I’ve rarely, if ever, seen an agency that has broken away so far from what the intent of the statute is, it just doesn’t happen.”
But Miracle says the health department has already been used as a vehicle for trying to close abortion clinics by requiring transfer agreements with hospitals.
Timing is also an issue here. These bills are still receiving hearings but could pass within the next month. The Ohio Senate passed a plan two weeks ago to defund Planned Parenthood but the House adjourned on that same day, leaving the bill, which House leaders say they support. Gov. John Kasich has said he plans to sign the bill into law.