Ohio lawmakers push abortion restrictions, gun rights expansion


By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican lawmakers have sent bills to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine that would increase abortion restrictions, expand gun rights and ban the execution of the severely mentally ill.

The measures come as the House and Senate wrap up business during the lame duck session before a new General Assembly takes office in January.

On Friday, there appeared to be some movement at the Statehouse on a resolution to the law at the center of a $60 million bribery probe. Two GOP lawmakers used a legislative procedure to try to shift the Legislature to separate repeal efforts following months of infighting within the caucus on the fate of the now-tainted legislation.

A look at the measures:

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FETAL REMAINS

Fetal remains from surgical abortions must be cremated or buried under one measure sent to DeWine.

Current Ohio law requires that aborted fetuses be disposed of “in a humane manner,” but “humane” is not further defined.

As state attorney general, DeWine investigated allegations regarding Planned Parenthood’s treatment of fetal remains in 2015. His report found no evidence of the illegal disposal that was alleged, but it criticized the organization for disposing of fetal remains in landfills.

Planned Parenthood called the finding “inflammatory.” The ACLU of Ohio says clinics already follow “strict state-regulated procedures for the safe and appropriate handling of all biological tissue.”

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ABORTION TELEMEDICINE

The use of telemedicine to conduct abortions would be banned and criminal penalties would be imposed on doctors who violate the law, under another measure sent to the governor.

Demand for medication abortions has grown during the pandemic and as access to in-person abortion clinics has dwindled.

Lauren Blauvelt-Copelin, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, called telemedicine “a vital tool to ensure that patients — especially those in medically underserved areas — can safely and quickly get the health care they need.”

Republicans who backed the bill said it’s important to have a doctor present during the procedure to protect the safety of the patient.

Abortion rights and civil rights groups have called on DeWine to veto both measures, which they say place undue burdens on women’s constitutional right to the procedure.

Although the governor hasn’t said how he’ll respond to the bills, he’s a pro-life Republican who signed a bill into law last year banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

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GUN LAWS

An individual’s duty to retreat before using force — such as a gun — would be eliminated under a gun rights bill approved by the House and sent to the Senate.

The measure expands the so-called “stand your ground” right from an individual’s house and car to any place, “if that person is in a place in which the person lawfully has a right to be.”

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DEATH PENALTY

The Legislature sent DeWine a bill that would ban the execution of the severely mentally ill.

The measure would spare killers diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder or delusional disorder at the time of their crimes.

The change would be one of the most significant in recent death penalty history in Ohio, but it comes as the state is under an unofficial moratorium because the state can’t find drugs for lethal injection.

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CORONAVIRUS

A public health order enacted in summer because of the coronavirus pandemic that restricted county fairs to junior fair activities, such as livestock competitions, would be overridden under legislation approved by the House and sent to DeWine.

DeWine has twice vetoed measures restricting the state’s ability to enact public health orders, in July and again this month.

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NUCLEAR PLANT BAILOUT

The future of the law that federal investigations say is at the center of the largest bribery scheme in Ohio history has remained in limbo as the lame duck session is winding down.

But as of Friday afternoon, more than 50 lawmakers from both parties had signed a discharge petition circulated by GOP Rep. Mark Romanchuk that would try to force the chamber to take a vote on a partial repeal that removes the nuclear and coal bailouts in the law.

Lawmakers failed, during a marathon legislative day Thursday, to move forward a separate bill that would have delayed the collection of the nuclear and solar subsidies for a year.

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Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth and AP/Report for America reporter Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press