Friday, March 17, 2000

Abortion procedure would become felony

'Partial birth' penalty passes in Senate

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The legislature again has taken up the issue of abortion as the Senate on Thursday added its approval to a bill making it a crime for doctors to perform a procedure to terminate late-term pregnancies.

        The bill, which passed 24-9, must go back to the House for consideration of minor changes.

        It creates the felony offense of partial birth feticide against a doctor who performs the procedure, and sets penalties of up to eight years in prison and fines of up to $15,000.

        The bill does not hold a pregnant woman responsible and makes exceptions if the woman's life is endangered. The measure replaces a similar bill passed in 1995 but later stopped by a lawsuit and found to be unconstitutional.

        The procedure is performed in the last three months of pregnancy. A doctor drains the skull of a fetus before the fetus is fully delivered. Some abortion opponents refer to it as a “partial-birth abortion.”

        Sen. Louis Blessing, R-Colerain Township, who carried the bill in the Senate for sponsoring Rep. Jerome Luebbers, D- Delhi Township, said the bill reflects the views of the public.

        “Most people in this state and most people in the General Assembly believe (the procedure) should be banned,” Mr. Blessing said.

        Three Democrats — Sens. Greg DiDonato of New Philadelphia, Anthony Latell of Girard and Michael Shoemaker of Bourneville — joined majority Republicans in supporting the bill.

        Opponents of the bill said lawmakers have no business making medical decisions for women. They also cited a case the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear next month concerning a similar law in Nebraska.

        “I don't think any of us sitting here today can make a decision for another human being,” said Sen. Linda Furney, D-Toledo. “I think we should leave this decision to a woman and her doctor.”

        Sen. Eric Fingerhut, D-Cleveland, said the legislature should wait until the Supreme Court rules before enacting a law that possibly could be unconstitutional. He suggested political considerations were driving the bill.

        “If this were any topic but abortion, I would submit that we would wait,” Mr. Fingerhut said. “What we're doing today ... is we're making a statement.”

        Mr. Blessing said the bill would pass constitutional muster because its language does not specify the type of abortion under appeal in the Supreme Court case.

        In other legislative action, Sen. Anthony Latell of Girard introduced a bill eliminating the requirement that students pass the reading portion of the fourth-grade proficiency test to be promoted to the fifth grade. In stead, the bill would allow children to attend summer school and get help in the fifth grade.

        Failure to pass the test, beginning in 2001, would “traumatize” the students, Mr. Latell said.

        The House, meanwhile, passed without opposition a $1.77 billion bill that reappropriates money authorized two years ago for construction projects statewide. The only major change from the Senate version is a $5 million transfer from prison construction projects to the Juvenile Correctional Building Fund.

        House Finance Chairman Robert Corbin, R-Dayton, said more space is needed to house juvenile offenders while the adult prison population is leveling off.

        “It's money that's laying there, that's not being used. If we don't move it, it lapses,” Mr. Corbin said of the reappropriation plan.

        The House also passed a bill that would punish prison inmates who fail drug tests. It would add 30 to 90 days to the offender's sentence.


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