Ohio medical professionals would be allowed to refuse to perform abortions if it’s against their religious beliefs, according to a subtle, last-minute amendment tucked away in the $75 billion budget adopted by the state Senate.
The measure, which was tacked onto the spending bill, is being hailed by anti-abortion rights groups that say it would allow doctors to abide by their moral standards.
“To us, it’s a First Amendment issue that sort of dates back a few years,” said John Fortney, Republican spokesperson for the Ohio Senate. “It’s disturbing that we’ve watched big government bureaucrats try to force health care organizations and doctors into providing services they didn’t (want to) offer because of religious reasons."
Abortion rights supporters, on the other hand, say it would diminish women's access to health care facilities.
“Republicans in the Ohio Senate have yet again hijacked the budget process to further their anti-abortion agenda,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, wrote on its website. “Across the state medical providers work hand in hand with abortion clinics, medical schools, and hospitals to ensure patients get access to (the) comprehensive reproductive health care they deserve. This amendment is about stigmatizing and isolating abortion providers.”
The Republican-led Senate passed its version of the budget in a 25-8 vote last week that fell along party lines. The House of Representatives previously adopted its version of the budget, which does not include the abortion measure.
Members from both chambers will likely meet in conference committee sometime next week to iron out the final budget.
That spending proposal will go to Gov. Mike DeWine, who must sign it by June 30.
Ohio is one of several states whose legislators are pushing measures to limit access to abortions or ban them outright.
More than 500 measures restricting abortions were introduced across the United States in the first three months of this year, compared with about 300 in the same period of 2019, according to a Planned Parenthood report.
If the Ohio Senate's version of the budget is adopted, a "medical practitioner, health care institution or health care payer" could decline to perform or pay for any service that violates their "conscience as informed by the moral, ethical, or religious beliefs or principles," according to language added to the bill.
“It’s a breath of fresh air knowing that Ohio passed a law protecting people’s religious beliefs,” Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis said. “If you have deeply held religious beliefs and you believe abortion is murder and you just happen to be a physician in Ohio, you don’t have to go through that.”
Ohio has more than 44,000 licensed physicians, all with different ideas and beliefs, he added.
Kersha Deibel, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, said her organization will always be open to those who need it.
“Reproductive health care is most equitable when all providers can work together to ensure the health and safety of the patients we serve,” she said in a statement. “An amendment that threatens the highest quality of care and creates barriers for comprehensive sex education is not one with the best interest of Ohioans in mind.”
Those opposing the amendment contend Republican lawmakers are quietly pushing the pending legislation into the financial spending plan. Supporters say it’s normal for nonbudgetary items to be included in the budget.
“It’s very common for changes in policy to happen in the operating budget and some of that is driven by the need to update antiquated language,” Fortney said.
Hundreds of amendments could be proposed for the budget, he added.
Ohio has some of the nation's strictest abortion laws.
An Ohio law that went into effect in April forces women who have abortions to choose between cremating or burying fetal remains.
Abortion providers who violate that 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.