On September 27, the Ohio Senate passed HB 63, an Ohio Right Right to Life (ORTL) bill to “tighten” up the procedures by which unmarried women in Ohio under the age of 18 can get an abortion without parental notification and consent. The passage of HB 63 is another tool to hack away at abortion access in the state. The bill, however, gives us the opportunity to expose the duplicitous nature of ORTL’s fraudulent concerns about “informed consent” “parental involvement” and “best interests” of teen women.. Dubious at best, these bytes spewed out to the public are nullified by ORTL’s sponsorship, support, and promotion of Ohio’s “safe haven law,” which encourages women– and targets teens especially– to hide pregnancies, give birth unattended, and to turn over their newborns anonymously to the state with no counseling, no parental involvement, and no health care, all under their “pro-life” banner.
Under Ohio law, an unmarried woman under the age of 18 cannot get an abortion without parental consent. She can, however, loophole out of by utilizing the judicial bypass procedure which permits her to go to juvenile court and request the state’s consent for her abortion outside of the family structure. This legal procedure requires judges to inquire about the minor’s understanding of the “possible physical and emotional complications of abortion and how she would respond to such complications.” That is, judges are forced to consider, for the most part, a laundry list of ORTL and Friends myths about abortion. The teen’s responses determine her mental and emotional “maturity” to undergo the procedure. Oddly, a young woman ruled too ‘emotionally immature” to have an abortion is considered mature enough to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth, and presumably rear a child–unless she decides to place it for adoption, or dump the newborn anonymously at a no-questions-asked state-facilitated “safe haven” drop-off point–neither of which requires consent of the teen’s parents or a judicial bypass to accomplish.
There are no good figures on how many judicial bypass requests have been made in Ohio since the law went into effect in 1985. In 2003, however, the Akron Beacon Journal, under a public information request to selected county juvenile courts, was able to identify 515 requests made between 2000 and late 2003. Out of those, 73 were denied. Unfortunately, the Beacon Journal article is no longer online so I’m forced to use the biased secondary source Life.com. for these figures and other information regarding the survey..
Since the survey was reported, the number of successful loopholes has been a bug up the nose of our local anti-aborts, and over the last few months ORTL has been working on passage of HB 63 to tighten them up. (Earlier bills were unsuccessful.) HB 63 passed the House in March, and last week, a slightly different version passed the Senate. After the concurrence hearing, it’s all over but the signing.
HB 63 was sponsored and supported by Speaker of the House William Batchelder and a gaggle of House and Senate Republicans. Many of them oppose obc access. Two of them are Rep.Matt Hoffman and Bob Mecklenborg who rolled their eyes and cracked jokes to each other during, and walked out during 2008 testimony (and here and here) before the House Health Committee in support of the original HB 7 records access/adoption and foster care reform bill. Mecklenborg was recently forced to resign from his House seat after he was arrested in Indiana drunk and pumped up with Viagra in the company of a stripper (who he described as “an old family friend”).
The Senate analysis of the bill indicates that HB 63 does the following: (my bold)
- Requires the court, in a hearing to permit a pregnant minor to consent to an abortion or by which a court may give judicial consent to an abortion, to specifically inquire about the minor’s understanding of the possible physical and emotional complications of abortion and how the minor would respond if the minor experienced those complications after the abortion.
- Requires the court, in a hearing of the type described in the previous dot point, to specifically inquire about the extent to which anyone has instructed the minor on how to answer questions and on what testimony to give at the hearing.
- Requires the court, in a hearing of the type described in the second preceding dot point, to make its findings regarding whether or not the minor is sufficiently mature and well enough informed to decide intelligently whether to have an abortion and whether or not the abortion is in the best interests of the minor by clear and convincing evidence
.“Rubber stamping” and an alleged lack of “informed consent” is ORTL’s putative complaint. Last February, ORTL lobbyist Stephanie Krider, testifying before the House Health and Aging Committee claimed that the current judicial bypass procedure is nothing but blatant government contempt for parental involvement in a teenager’s decision to seek an abortion. To underscore her point, Krider claimed, presenting no evidence, that underage women going to court are being over-prepped by lawyers, Planned Parenthood, and even “older men” (aka seducer adult males fearful of statuary rape or rape charges) ) on how to respond to judges’ queries and manipulate the decision to the petitioner’s favor. (Krider failed to mention that communication between client and attorney is privileged, suggesting that the implications may be farther reaching than just abortion. “consent.”) Since bypass hearings are closed to the public, she complained. parents are denied the right to legal representation and to cross examine the teen or present opposing testimony. She says that judges tend to ask routine scripted questions, but then hints of an organized high school underground that informs teenagers of “new” questions a specific judge has asked recently.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Here are some quotes direct from the keyboard of ORTL and its legislative cronies bemoaning the deficiency of parental input and informed consent in the judicial bypass procedure:. (My bold):
- The fact that so many judges automatically conclude that it is in the minor’s “best interest” to have an abortion without notifying her parents shows that they have no concept of how physically and emotionally harmful an abortion can be to a young woman…Parents kept in the dark about their daughter’s abortion may underestimate the importance of signs of physical and emotional problems until it’s too late. Mark Lally, ORTL legislative counsel, LifeNews.com, November 11, 2003.
- Ohioans know that parental consent laws save lives…We are trying very hard to preserve parents’ ability to help their daughters when they are confronted with the challenges of teenage pregnancy. A recent study proved that responsible parental consent laws reduce the minor abortion rate by 18.7 percent. Mike Gondiakis, Executive Director of ORTL, Ohio Right to Life Press Release, March 16, 2011.
- A minor’s decision to terminate a pregnancy can have immeasurable consequences. It is critical that we do everything possible to allow for meaningful parental input. HB 63 sponsor Ron Young, Life News.com, March 16, 2011.
- The pro-life legislation will protect minors and their unborn children by strengthening parental involvement and consent laws. Mike Gondiakis, Executive Director, ORTL Press Release, June 22, 2011.
- This pro-life legislation will protect minors and their unborn children by closing loopholes and raising the bar to protect parents’ ability to care for their children.”… “HB 63 strengthens parents; ability to care for their children and prevents lawyers and others from taking mom and dad’s place when the child needs them most.” Mike Gondiakis, Executive Director, ORTL Press Release, September 27, 2011.
All of this rhetoric about informed consent and strengthening, family communication, parental involvement and rights (real or otherwise) in the untimely pregnancies of teen daughters would normally be talk I’d not be writing about here. It’s all old ho-hum. Everybody knows that ORTL’s real problem is that somebody somewhere is having an abortion.
Ohio Right to Life and its friends in the General Assembly, however, are on legislative record as opposing informed consent, family communication, and parental involvement in the unplanned pregnancies of their teen daughters when it fits the organization’s political agenda.
With its support and promotion of the state’s “Desertion of Child Under 72 Hours Old Act” (DCA) popularly known as the “safe haven” law” that lets women of any age legally abandon their newborn children anonymously with no questions asked, ORTL guts its demand for informed consent and parental involvement in critical child-bearing decisions that can affect their daughters’ and their grandchildren’s physical and mental health permanently, and in the process, collapses on its self-defined moral high ground.
THE OHIO RIGHT TO LIFE EXCEPTION
Ohio’s “safe haven” law, is the ultimate loophole. It doesn’t require a lawyer. It doesn’t require parental notification or consent. It doesn’t require a judicial bypass hearing. It doesn’t require counseling, “informed consent”. or even a flyer listing alternatives to legalized dumping. It doesn’t require surrender documents and other tedious paperwork. It doesn’t even require that the “parent” be identified by name, show an ID, or prove legal custody. It only requires the desire of someone to get rid of a baby after it’s born.with no fuss, muss, and untidy questions .
Ohio law permits any woman (or man) of any age to anonymously “relinquish” a newborn at designated state-approved drop-off points such as ERs, fire stations and police stations. (Despite the hype, “safe haven” infants aren’t being “relinquished” for adoption, though adoption may be the outcome. Infants are, instead, being thrown into the juvenile court and CPS to founder for at least a year. until their legal status is clarified.) Some states’ laws are broader and include drop-offs at staffed churches, dentist offices, health departments–and “any responsible person” (no definition of “responsible person” given). In a few states such as Florida, “safe haven” agents are barred legally from asking newly delivered mothers if they need medical assistance. Legally complicated and sometimes expensive mechanisms are in place for parents or kin to retrieve the child.
Passed in late 1999, HB 660, Ohio’s original “safe haven” law, was enacted during a wave of moral panic in response to a falsely perceived nationwide epidemic of newborn discard and neonaticide fueled by mainstream media that focused on rare and sensational incidents. such as the infamous 1998 “Prom Mom” case. Initially, the law legalized the anonymous dumping of babies up to three days of age. In 2008, under SB 304, the General Assembly expanded the age frame to children up to 30 days old, though as in 1999, there was no evidence that infant discard was a problem in Ohio.
HB 660 was a creature of the legislature with some support from public child welfare agencies. Law enforcement, also supported the measure even though hearing witnesses admitted they had no memory of discard incidents in their jurisdictions. .The bill received no support from child welfare and adoption ethicists, adoptee rights/adoption reform groups or for the most part, private adoption agencies,.
Opponents raised serious ethical and legal questions, pointing out that legalized baby dumping is irreconcilable to best practice in child welfare and adoption; a heave-ho to over 100 years of evolving practice and a slap in the face of everyone who has ever surrendered a child “the right way.”
Moreover, “safe haven” laws did nothing to decrease infant abandonment. On the contrary, they gave infant abandonment the state’s seal of approval, which in turn encouraged women who would have otherwise sought counseling and alternatives to abandonment to now make “non-bureaucratic surrenders” that lacked the legal protections for mother and child under traditional child welfare law. They were also concerned that the law, with the promise that “nobody would ever have to know you had this child” would encourage young women to forgo pre- and post natal care, putting the welfare and lives of themselves and their babies at risk.
Reform groups particularly objected to lack of informed consent and parental involvement, anonymous “relinquishment,” secret birth and adoption, and the erasure of the other parent (usually fathers) and the biological family.. Adoption agencies were especially critical of hidden, unattended pregnancies and birth, lack of informed consent, and lack of fathers’ consent, all of which in business terms, put their own incomes at risk.
In 1999, I attended three of the four House Children and Family Services Committee hearings for HB 660 and testified against the bill at the second hearing. So-called “pro-life” proponents made no objection to the lack of informed consent and parental input.or the inherent danger of unattended pregnancy and birth. They acted like magic babies would suddenly appear on a pink fluffy cloud, clean and healthy as …well… who knows. One woman from Akron whose church was eager to adopt “every abandoned baby in the state” testified that medical conditions and psychological problems caused by secret pregnancy, delivery, and anonymous abandonment were unimportant. “The baby will just be glad to be alive. If it has problems, it will just have to live with it.”
Neither the Church Lady nor the committee as a whole cared just what those problems might be. Children born with no pre-natal care are subject to numerous disabilities including cerebral palsy, mental retardation and delay, blindness, low birth weight, diabetes and hyperlidemia, short life spans.and…death. Women who receive no pre- or post-natal care and give birth unattended are subject to life-threatening pregnancy-related disabilities including infection, premature birth, breech birth, placenta previa/accreta (which can require a C-Section), preeclampsia, hypermesis, gravidarum, post-partum depression or psychosis, and… death.. Very young women are at especially high risk.
House sponsor and bill author Rep Cheryl Wmikler, who also chaired the House committee meetings, made the improbable claim during one hearing that 14-year old girls, a few moments after giving birth alone over a toilet or in a bathtub, would just hop on a bus or catch a ride with “an older friend in college” (!) and drop off the baby before anyone knew what had happened. Bleeding out was not an option..
“Safe haven” was seen simply as another way to “save babies.” and consequences be damned! Winkler, in fact, closed each hearing with a tearful “Thank you for saving the babies.” (see Carol Sanger’s excellent Infant Safe Haven Laws: Legislating in the Culture of Life, Columbia Law Review 104:4 :4 May 2006 on the connection in the greater political culture between “safe haven” laws and abortion.). Ironically, when the bill passed the House, the two dissenting votes came from the most conservative anti-abortion members in the chamber: Rep Jim Jordan (now a Congressman) and Rep. Ron Young, both believing that the law “cheapened life.” Jordan, during hearings, objected on many of the same grounds as did adoption reformers and adoptee rights activists. Cincinnati Republican Doug White opposed in the Senate..
HB 660 passed into law, dreaded rubber stamp in hand.
LEGISLATORS ON THE RECORD
Ohio Right to Life’s legislative support for HB 660 is no longer online. For more than a decade, though, it has supported baby dumping and advocated the use of “safe havens” by posting information about the program on its website. Various ORTL state affiliates link back to it. It’s webpage does not mention medical complications and psychological problems for mother and child.Other state anti-abortion organizations signed on, too: Americans United for Life, The Catholic Conference of Ohio, Democrats for Life in Ohio, Ohio Christian Alliance, Priests for Life, and the Life Issues Institute.)
ORTL’s support for SB 304, the 2008 expansion law, however, is easy to find.. ORTL testified in support of SB 304, but it’s testimony is not online. In a December 9, 2008, press release, though, distributed to anti-abortion organizations and media throughout the country, and reprinted in ORTL state affiliate newsletters, ORTL Director, Mike Gondiakis praised the expansion. “We believe that extending the time frame when a parent can use the Safe Haven law will help protect babies.” (
Large numbers of ORTL PAC recommendations for the 2008 session put their names on SB 304 and another time expansion measure, HB 485. The second bill which would have increased the age eligibility from three to six days, was left to die in committee in the wake of SB 304. (See sidebar below for names)
Ironically, by supporting the extension of the dump age to 30 days, ORTL and its legislative buddies, appear downright anti-family, suggesting that parents should be able to test-drive their children before deciding to keep them. (This is not a far-fetched. In California, proponents of several unsuccessful attempts to expand that state’s “safe haven” time frame, citing post-partum depression, C-section recoveries, and new-parent sleep deprivation, argued that parents need time to decide they are up to the task, and they should be able to “send the baby back” if they came up short. In a moment of clarity California Right to Life Advocates and the California Right to Life Committee opposed the expansion for moving the intent of “safe haven” from “child saving” to “child welfare.”)
Not satisfied with simply having baby dumping on the books, sponsors of both expansion bills included provisions for the state to educate “at risk populations” on how to abandon newborns without going to jail. HB 485 specifically required some sort of high school curriculum unit be developed “pertaining to the desertion of a child less than one hundred and forty-four hours after birth by parents with no intent to return for the child.” In affect, “safe haven” proponents and ORTL were eager to teach teenagers how to avoid parental detection of pregnancy and birth. So far, we have not see any baby abandonment curriculum coming out of the state, though several states, including California, Illinois and Florida (video about how to- abandon your baby taught in the Catholic school system.)
In the bizarro world of Ohio Right to Life, parental involvement in teen pregnancies when “saving fetuses” is involved, is essential to the maintenance of “traditional family values” Involvement is eliminated in the name of “traditional family values” when it comes to the safety and welfare of young pregnant women, just delivered mothers, and just born babies as long as the babies are scheduled to be dumped on an ER counter.
Under the banner of informed consent, Ohio Right to Life insists on
scaring -warning pregnant women with a laundry list of what it claims are the harmful affects of abortion, At the same time it ignores the harmful affects of secret pregnancy on the fetus, the harmful affects of unattended secret birth on baby and mother, and the harmful affects of child abandonment. on both. Moreover, it does not address the legal ramifications of “safe haven.” which are beyond the scope of this piece, but include protracted legal proceedings including closed court hearings, the the filing of a deserted child complaint, and expensive DNA testing if reunification is desired.
Current informed consent procedures in Ohio include a menu of best practice and ORTL-friendly warnings, but “safe haven” procedures require none. Ever. Mental retardation?. Fine! Premature? Fine! Breech birth? Fine. Preeclampsia? Fine. Excessive bleeding? Fine! Post Partum Depression? Fine. You’d think this would worry ORTL and its Statehouse point men, but it doesn’t. It it did, it wouldn’t be pimping baby abandonment.
SB 304: Over half of the sponsors of SB 304 received ORTL PAC recommendations or preferred candidates the 2008 election.
Senate: 8 out of 21 sponsors: Sponsor: Cates, Co-sponsors: Wagoner, Seitz, Faber, Grendell, Neihaus, Wilson. Austria (already in office, but running for Congress with ORTRL recommendation).
HB 63: 33 of 72 sponsors of the bill were ORTL recommendations.
HB 304 and HB 63 combined: