COLUMBUS, Ohio — The right to abortion is arguably one of the most controversial issues that have taken Ohio by storm over the past decade.
The fetal heartbeat bill first hit the Ohio legislature in 2011. It didn’t pass then, but similar legislation surrounding abortion restriction appeared and passed in the Republican supermajority state. The fifth time the General Assembly saw fetal heartbeat bills was in 2019. Governor Mike DeWine signed the bill into law that year. This made abortion illegal after the fetus's heartbeat can be detected, usually between five or six weeks into the pregnancy, before the majority of people know they are pregnant. A federal judge blocked this bill temporarily.
Now, a new bill on the medical abortion reversal process is being heard.
"The gist of this bill is that we're going to provide a form through the Ohio Department of Health so that when a woman goes to the doctor's office, she'll get that form, as well as others that, you know, you typically receive from a doctor's office, telling her about the alternatives to the abortion pill as well, or she would like to reverse that abortion pill," Director of Legislative Affairs at Ohio Right to Life Mary Parker said.
House Bill 378would require the Ohio Department of Health to publish information and give copies of materials on an abortion reversal process at least 24 hours prior to the patient taking the abortion pill mifepristone.
The abortion pill is an FDA-approved method that is safe and effective for those who are an early abortion up to 10 weeks in pregnancy, according to the FDA. There are two steps in the process. First, the individual seeking the abortion would take mifepristone. This medicine stops the pregnancy from growing, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The next medicine is misoprostol, which will expel the embryo.
The reversal process is a treatment that requires the individual to take repeated doses of progesterone, a drug that supporters say would counteract the abortion pill. This would occur after the first abortion medication, mifepristone.
Pro-Choice Ohio said this is a campaign based on misinformation.
"When we look at what this bill really is, this is all experimentation on pregnant people and there's nothing in this bill that would require that pamphlet to say this is experimental and not proven," Pro-Choice Deputy Director Jaime Miracle said. "There is no requirement that the information be medically accurate."
The bill would utilize one experimental treatment that was conducted with 12 participants in 2019. After the reversal procedure, a fourth of the group experienced hemorrhaging. The study was then stopped after the three women needed to be taken to the hospital. The researchers could not "estimate the efficacy of progesterone for mifepristone antagonization due to safety concerns."
Patients in early pregnancy who use only mifepristone, and don't take the misoprostol, may be at high risk of significant hemorrhage, the study added.
A study was done by the University of California San Francisco Medical Center's Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) reported The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) does not support the use of progesterone to “stop” a medication abortion due to the lack of scientific evidence and the FDA has not evaluated the treatment.
Miracle added the sample size was not sufficient enough to draw conclusions and that this experimental treatment could hurt people. Parker just wants everyone to know their options and the risks.
"They're just going to be given a pamphlet from the Ohio Department of Health letting them know, should she regret her choice, there are options available," Parker said. "Should any woman feel like she regrets her abortion or that she was compelled to have a chemical abortion, there is hope for her."
Miracle is still concerned about the language of these pamphlets. Parker said that will come in time.
"They will be created by the Ohio Department of Health, and through that process, there will be hearings as to what should be included in those pamphlets," she said. "However, in the bill we do, we do outline some language that should be included — So they really have to hit the basics of what abortion pill reversal is."
Under the bill, physicians must give documents that say: “Recent developing research has indicated that mifepristone alone is not always effective in ending a pregnancy. It may be possible to avoid, cease, or even reverse the intended effects of an abortion utilizing mifepristone if the second pill has not been taken. Please consult with a health care professional immediately.”
Those hearings are not required to be public, in accordance with R.C. 111.15. The language of the bill refers to a medical abortion as "as an abortion that involves a regimen of taking mifepristone first, then one or more subsequent “dangerous drugs.” A “dangerous drug” is defined in continuing law to include prescription drugs." Miracle adds that medical abortion is completely safe and FDA-approved.
"There's no scientific research that proves that this protocol works, is effective, or is safe," Miracle said about the abortion reversal process.
The bill also creates the crime of failure to disclose the reversibility of a mifepristone abortion. Under the bill, physicians could receive a first-degree misdemeanor on a first offense. This could be up to 180 days of jail time and a maximum $1,000 fine. There would be a fourth-degree felony on each subsequent offense with a prison term ranging from six to 18 months and a maximum $5,000 fine. The crime does not apply if the physician believes that a medical emergency exists that prevents compliance with the bill.
This bill would also give individuals who had an abortion to file a civil action for the wrongful death of their unborn child if they believe they were not adequately informed. The person could get $10,000 in damages or an amount determined by a court. People who have received the abortion who are now suing are not guilty.
"This isn't about health care, this isn't about safety, this isn't about caring about pregnant people and their health," Miracle said. "This is about achieving their political goal of banning abortion and making it hard to get access to."
"What we're seeing again with this bill is anti-abortion legislators, in conjunction with anti-abortion advocacy groups pushing misinformation into Ohio Revised Code and onto pregnant people across our state."
The bill's hearing Tuesday was supposed to include testimony from Parker and others in support of the bill. The legislators ran out of time, so they canceled to meeting. The meeting following should feature testimony from Miracle and pro-choice advocates.