- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Abortion providers in Ohio must cremate, bury or incinerate any fetal remains under two separate bills that a state legislative panel passed Wednesday.

The Republican-dominated Ohio House Health Committee voted along party lines in favor of the bills, which were revised to address privacy concerns and other issues. A full House vote has not yet been scheduled, though GOP leadership has said the legislation is a priority.

Ohio currently requires providers to dispose of aborted fetuses “in a humane manner,” but that’s not further defined in law.

The two House proposals seek to clarify the vague rules and ensure the unborn are treated with dignity, the bills’ Republican sponsors say.

Opponents claim the measures are medically unnecessary, burden women and abortion providers, and put patients’ confidentiality at risk through a paper trail of documents.

State law requires a burial permit to bury or cremate remains. Permits can’t be issued until a death certificate is in the process of being filed. These documents are publicly available upon request and can contain such information as the mother’s name.

Sponsors have said it was never their intent to reveal the identities of women who get abortions.

The bills were revised Wednesday to create a separate form that providers could use to obtain the burial permit. The form wouldn’t include the woman’s name or her signature, only a medical identification number.

The updated bills include other changes.

Under both proposals, women who have abortions would be given the choice to decide whether their fetal remains should be cremated, buried or incinerated. She also could leave that up to the facilities. Previously, only one bill gave the pregnant woman the option of indicating a preference.

The two measures still have key differences.

For instance, House Bill 417 would require that if the fetal remains are incinerated, they must be done so individually, without other fetuses or medical waste. It also would impose criminal penalties for violations. A woman whose aborted fetal remains weren’t disposed of properly would be immune from such penalties.

House Bill 419 would leave the incineration rules up to Ohio’s health department, which would be responsible for writing many of the detailed regulations.

The head of one abortion rights group called the bills’ privacy-related changes an improvement, but said the measures were “still a train wreck.”

“This is simply yet another way to punish women and the medical community for abortion,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. “There’s no justification other than they want to make abortions more difficult to access.”

State Rep. Barbara Sears, a co-sponsor of H.B. 419, disagreed.

Sears, a Toledo-area Republican, said the proposal will help clear subjective aspects of regulations for medical disposal companies that have contracts with abortion providers. “I think a business would prefer to have things less subjective,” she said.

Asked whether she expected abortion clinics to close as a result of the additional rules, Sears told reporters, “No. Absolutely not.”


Follow Ann Sanner on Twitter at https://twitter.com/asanner.

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