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Legislators In Ohio And Kentucky React To Supreme Court Abortion Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against a Texas law that required doctors performing abortions in the Lone Star state to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and required abortion clinics to meet standards for ambulatory surgical centers. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles takes a look at how that ruling affects Ohio.

State lawmakers have put in place restrictions on Ohio abortion clinics that are similar to those in Texas. So the leader of NARAL Pro Choice Ohio, Kellie Copeland, says the Supreme Court’s ruling against the state of Texas is a victory for abortion clinics in Ohio too.

“We think that Ohio politicians were put on notice.”

Attorney Jennifer Branch of Gerhardstein and Branch, a law firm that has argued many court cases for abortion providers, says this ruling will affect similar laws in place in Ohio that require abortion clinics to have transfer agreements with hospitals.

“The State of Ohio has been told by this decision to stop adding restrictions to clinics purely for the purpose of shutting clinics down and prohibiting access to abortion.”

But Mike Gonadakis with Ohio Right to Life doesn’t think this Texas ruling has any bearing on Ohio’s abortion laws.

“While it was a punch in the gut to the pro life movement, we believe that Ohio’s regulatory scheme will not be impacted negatively or positively as it relates to the Texas decision.”

Gonadakis says it does confirm his group’s contention that the nation’s high court is not ready to accept some abortion measures – such as the bill that would ban an abortion when a heartbeat could be detected or the personhood plan that would ban abortion at a point an egg is fertilized. And he says the ruling shows measures such as that so-called “heartbeat bill” or the self-titled “Personhood Amendment” go too far.

“We need to grow up here in Ohio as it relates to the legislation that we are putting forth and do things that are responsible, do things that are common sense and that we know will survive a court challenge because what we saw in Texas sets the movement back.”

Gonadakis believes there is some legislation under consideration at the Statehouse right now that would be constitutional if passed. That includes the bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, which supporters say is the point at which a fetus can feel pain, and the bill that would require abortion clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains.

“We think those two cornerstone foundational pieces of legislation can get to the Governor and withstand any court challenge.”

But Branch says that fetal remains bill might not be constitutional at all.

“The undue burden, let’s say in the fetal disposal statute that might come out, if it doubles or triples the cost of an abortion then whatever the state is claiming is justification for that could be challenged under the Supreme Court’s explanation of how we prove that it would be an undue burden. So hypothetically, I can see a situation of how the state could pass that law and a challenge could be made to it that would be pretty simple.”

What happens in the here and now with the transfer agreement laws that are already in place? It’s not exactly clear. Emmalee Kalmbach, a spokeswoman for Gov. John Kasich and a former employee of Ohio Right to Life, says Ohio’s laws have been in place since the mid 90’s. She says it’s premature to know if this decision will impact Ohio. And she says the Governor’s legal team is currently studying the situation.

Kentucky

After Monday’s Supreme Court ruling that overturned two abortion restrictions in Texas, a Kentucky lawmaker said he’s considering proposing a similar measure again during next year’s General Assembly.

London Republican Sen. Albert Robinson proposed a similar bill during this year’s session that would have required Kentucky abortion providers meet stricter regulations and have a health care practitioner obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 50 miles of the facility.

Robinson said that while he would “like to shut every abortion clinic down,” his proposal is intended to make the procedure safer rather than restrict them.

“It’s a known fact that they’re going to take that baby in there and slaughter it and kill it, but at least let’s let the mother have a decent place to have this done,” he said.

Robinson said he would still have to review the Supreme Court’s decision before filing the legislation again.

Under his previous proposal, abortion providers would have to meet the licensure requirements of ambulatory surgical centers — regulations that range from requirements for building layout to medical devices.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas’ ambulatory surgical center requirement for abortion providers as well as the state’s provision for doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

In the 5-3 ruling, the court said the policies put an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions in the state. The number of abortion clinics in Texas declined from about 40 in 2013 — the year the new abortion regulations took effect — to 20 this year.

Robinson said the ruling should “awaken” abortion opponents to vote for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in November.

“I’m not as much an admirer of Donald Trump as some, but I am saying unless we get him in there, we’re going to lose these [cases],” Robinson said. “He will put courts in there that will stop this.”

Robinson said under a Republican president and more conservative Supreme Court, proposals like his might be able to challenge the current ruling.

Kentucky has three abortion clinics — two of which have suspended services amid lawsuits from Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration over the validity of the facilities’ licenses.

Joe Dunman, a civil rights attorney at Clay Daniel Walton and Adams in Louisville, said the ruling would have no effect on those lawsuits or any current laws in Kentucky, but it might on future policies that restrict abortions.

“Clinics now have a new tool to defend themselves from attack or to challenge the laws that regulate them,” Dunman said. “This new case provides a lot of great language about what the actual standard is to determine constitutionality and also how laws burden women.”

Bevin is suing both EMW Women’s Clinic in Lexington and Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky in Louisville for allegedly performing abortions without a license.

In a statement released after the Supreme Court ruling, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky President Betty Cockrum said the decision is encouraging.

“Abortion providers are often the target of unfair legislation, and we’re no exception,” Cockrum said. “It’s a major victory for the Supreme Court to acknowledge that such legislation interferes with women’s legal right to abortion, and sets a good precedent for our work in Indiana and Kentucky.”

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