For the second time in a year, state legislators in Ohio have proposed anti-abortion legislation that pushes doctors to perform a medical procedure that does not exist.
Ohio House Bill 413, known as the "abortion murder" bill, carries language that appears to require doctors treating a woman who suffers an ectopic pregnancy to re-implant the fertilized egg in the patient's uterus or face criminal charges. We left phone messages for the bill's Republican sponsors, state Reps. Candice Keller and Ron Hood, but received no response from either.
The proposed law creates a new crime called "abortion murder" and makes it a felony that could be punishable by life in prison to have or perform an abortion. It also states:
A physician who does all of the following is not subject to criminal prosecution, damages in any civil action, or professional disciplinary action, for a violation of this chapter [if he/she]:
(C)Takes all possible steps to preserve the life of the unborn child, while preserving the life of the woman. Such steps include, if applicable, attempting to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy into the woman's uterus.
The bill resulted in headlines like, "Ohio bill orders doctors to ‘reimplant ectopic pregnancy’ or face 'abortion murder' charges," prompting readers to ask Snopes.com to verify whether that was true.
It appears true that the bill's authors intended it to mean that doctors who don't try to re-implant fertilized eggs from ectopic pregnancies could face "abortion murder" charges, said Jessie Hill, associate dean for academic affairs and Judge Ben C. Green Professor of Law at the Case Western University School of Law. But the only way to know for certain is for the bill to be signed into law, which Hill believes is unlikely due to its extreme nature, and get sorted out by the courts.
"It's disturbing, because they [the bill's authors] are telling doctors how to practice medicine, and they have no idea what they're talking about," Hill told us. "Even if it’s harmful to the woman and not an acceptable medical procedure, [the bill says doctors] have to try it."
The first time Ohio lawmakers drafted a proposed law leaning on doctors to re-implant an ectopic pregnancy was in May 2019. That bill, House Bill 182, would have barred insurance companies from covering abortions and some types of birth control, but would have allowed insurance companies to cover a non-existent ectopic pregnancy re-implant procedure.
An ectopic pregnancy is often a life-threatening emergency in which a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, often in the fallopian tube. As the fertilized egg grows in size, it can cause the fallopian tube to rupture, resulting in major hemorrhaging that requires immediate surgery.
The idea that an ectopic pregnancy can be taken from where it implanted and re-implanted in the uterus, resulting in the birth of a baby, originated with HB 182 and Ohio state Rep. John Becker, who told us in May 2019 he read about the procedure being done twice, once in 1915 and a second time in 1980.
But even if it's true that such a procedure succeeded twice, it hasn't translated into a known medical treatment that can be performed with safety and success, Dr. Daniel Grossman, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California at San Francisco, told us at the time.
“This is not a medical treatment,” Grossman told Snopes in May. “This has not been studied, it has not been shown to be safe and effective, and it’s not something that’s done.”
The bill has garnered broad attention and criticism, even from some abortion opponents, for its extreme nature and seemingly outlandish wording. HB 413 also makes it a crime punishable by death to commit "aggravated abortion murder" — that is, knowingly performing an abortion "while committing or attempting to commit kidnapping, rape, aggravated arson, arson, aggravated robbery, robbery, aggravated burglary, burglary, trespass in a habitation when a person is present or likely to be present, terrorism, or escape."
Laws that restrict access to or criminalize abortion passed in various states could be part of a strategy to maneuver lawsuits through the courts until they reach the U.S. Supreme Court, in an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 decision that gave women nationwide the right to abortion, Hill told us. But HB 413 seems to be an unlikely vehicle for that, if that was the intent behind it.
"Never say never in Ohio these days," Hill told us. But, she added, "I would be surprised if it passes and gets signed, and even if it does, I wouldn’t expect it to get through the courts." In July 2019, a federal judge blocked Ohio's so-called "heartbeat" law, which would have banned most abortions.
Nevertheless, Hill said, such bills represent bad public policy because they confuse people. Hill said abortion clinics receive phone calls from people who are unsure whether abortion is legal in Ohio, and in some cases people travel outside the state to undergo the procedure. Furthermore, Ohio taxpayers are on the hook for legal costs in cases the state loses in court. It's a "waste of everyone's time and resources," Hill said.
Keller, HB 413's main sponsor, is no stranger to controversy. In August 2019, the state Republican party called on her to resign after she took to Facebook and blamed a laundry list of grievances for mass shootings after gun massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, including, "transgender, homosexual marriage, and drag queen advocates," recreational marijuana and even former President Barack Obama, who by that time had been out of office for more than two years.
Ohio's Legislature is controlled by Republicans, but in May 2019, a federal judge ruled the state's congressional map was gerrymandered to unfairly favor that party. Advocates in Ohio suffered a defeat in June 2019 when an attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to address gerrymandering failed, meaning the current districts will likely still stand when the 2020 election rolls around.