Ohio Judge Protects Planned Parenthood, Calls Fetus Disposal Law 'Vague'

by | December 15, 2015

By Alan Johnson

A federal judge temporarily blocked Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine from going to court seeking changes in how Planned Parenthood clinics dispose of fetal remains following abortions.

U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. granted a 28-day temporary restraining order late this afternoon, after a day-long series of private talks between attorneys for DeWine and Planned Parenthood failed to resolve the dispute.

Sargus said that the state code requirement that the disposal of aborted fetal remains be done in a "humane" manner was too "vague."

It is an unusual, but not unprecedented ruling when a federal court blocks proposed action in a state court.

The issue came about after DeWine released an investigative report last week concluding that fetuses aborted at Ohio Planned Parenthood facilities in Columbus and Cincinnati were "steam-cooked and taken to a Kentucky landfill." He vowed to go to Common Pleas Court to seek an injunction to stop the practice.

But Planned Parenthood filed a preemptive federal lawsuit Sunday seeking a temporary restraining order from the federal court blocking DeWine from taking action on fetal remains disposal.

Sargus will take time to more closely examine the issue. In the meantime, Planned Parenthood's clinics in Columbus, Cincinnati and Bedford Heights in Cuyahoga County will be able to continue the practice of contracting with medical disposal firms to handle fetal remains from abortions.

There were 21,186 abortions in 2014, the lowest number since 1976, according to Ohio Department of Health records. Ohio has nine operating abortion clinics, including three operated by Planned Parenthood.

Also today, Republican state lawmakers said they will introduce legislation requiring that remains of aborted fetuses must be buried or cremated -- and women who have abortions would have to make the decision.

"Today we stand for the voiceless. Today, we stand for the dignity of the unborn," Rep. Robert McColley of Napoleon said at a Statehouse press conference, joined by three other lawmakers.

One bill would require hospitals, abortion clinics and other health care providers to dispose of fetuses and fetal tissue either by burial or cremation. That would be done through the Ohio Department of Health.

The second bill would require women who have abortions to sign a paper designating whether they want the fetal remains to be buried or cremated. If the law is not followed, the provider, but not the woman, could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable up to 180 days in jail.

"We can no longer sit on the wall about what is going on inside their (Planned Parenthood) clinics," said Rep. Kyle Koehler from Springfield.

House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, said the bills will be "a priority in the House" when lawmakers return in January.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio quickly slammed the proposals as medically unnecessary and "shaming" to women undergoing the trauma of having an abortion.

"This matter is between the woman and the doctor," said NARAL spokesman Gabriel Mann. "There's no reason for the legislature to get involved."

Legislation to be sponsored by Reps. Barbara Sears, R-Sylvania, and Tim Ginter, R-Salem, would require the Ohio Department of Health to adopt rules governing how abortion clinics, hospitals and other medical providers dispose of fetal remains. The options will be burial or cremation.

State code deals very differently with how abortion providers and hospitals -- which frequently care for women who suffer miscarriages -- handle fetal remains.

The section for abortion clinics requires only that remains by disposed of in "humane" fashion. By contrast, rules for hospitals lump disposal of fetal issues under "infectious waste," including blood products, bodily fluids, radioactive materials, syringes and other sharp instruments. The materials must be disposed of at a licensed "infectious waste treatment facility," state code dictates.

Dispatch Public Affairs Editor Darrel Rowland contributed to this story.

(c)2015 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)