Bill would let Ohioans sue over unintended pregnancies

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohioans who get someone pregnant unintentionally may have to reach deep into their pockets — and stand before a judge — if new legislation succeeds.

Weeks after Ohio’s six-week abortion ban took effect, state Sen. Tina Maharath (D-Columbus) introduced a bill Thursday to allow pregnant people to sue a sexual partner for causing an unintended pregnancy, ostensibly to level the playing field when it comes to the steep costs of pregnancy.

“Too often, this cost is solely the mother’s to bear, especially in the case of an unintended pregnancy,” Maharath said in a release. “However, the father shares equal responsibility for the pregnancy and it is only right that he pays equally for it.”

Under Senate Bill 262, pregnant Ohioans can file a civil suit no later than five years after conception against whoever caused them to have an unintended pregnancy — and anyone who “aids or abets” the impregnator — regardless of the circumstances.

A judge who finds by a preponderance of the evidence that pregnancy was indeed unintended must award the pregnant plaintiff at least $5,000, in addition to court costs and attorney’s fees.

Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis lambasted Maharath’s legislation as a waste of time and taxpayer money, calling on abortion rights advocates to find “actual solutions” to protect women and children. 

If not, they should “simply walk away from the Statehouse,” he said in an email.

“As usual, pro-choice politicians only offer gimmicks and slapstick humor as solutions to women’s issues,” Gonidakis said. “This so-called legislation will not see the light of day and has a zero percent chance of even getting a committee vote.”

Julia Cattaneo, who told NBC4 in March about traveling to New York for an abortion she obtained at 14 years old, said Maharath’s bill could help strengthen child support laws while providing those impregnated by sexual violence an avenue to justice “other than just the criminal courts, which are usually just a slap in the hand.”

“This would give the victim a way to get financial support and hopefully more resources,” Cattaneo, 65, who is now living in Columbus and retired from a career in social work, said. “It also validated that the action of getting someone pregnant does not stop with that action.”

However, she expressed concern about the impregnator not having the financial means to face a civil suit or fork over at least $5,000 to the person they got pregnant.

The main issue she said SB 262 presents is the possibility that the burden of proving an unintended pregnancy — which could be tough to demonstrate in court — will fall on the pregnant plaintiff.

“What I would like to see is a bit more general,” Cattaneo said. “Any person who forces an individual to follow through with an unwanted pregnancy should have to take responsibility for that individual and the outcome of that forced birth.”

Lizzie Whitmarsh, a spokesperson for Ohio Right to Life, said in an email that SB 262 is offensive, as it implies that women “are too stupid” to make responsible choices with a sexual partner, instead shifting the blame on men.

“Isn’t this what feminist[s] have fought against for years?” she said. “Women are smarter than that. We are not helpless victims that have no say over the choices we make, including those choices in the bedroom.”

She added that Maharath’s bill denigrates a pregnancy by treating it as “something ugly and inconvenient, worthy to be sued over.”

Just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending 50 years of abortion rights, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost successfully petitioned a judge to lift an injunction against Ohio’s 2019 heartbeat bill, effectively outlawing abortion once fetal cardiac activity is detected.

Maharath called the six-week ban a “draconian” measure that prohibits abortion before many people even know they are pregnant.

During a press conference Thursday in which President Biden shared his plans to sign an executive order protecting abortion access in the U.S., he mentioned a case in Ohio that made national headlines where a 10-year-old girl was forced to travel to Indiana to receive an abortion, as state law barred her from receiving the procedure.

“This law is already having devastating effects, as we learned that a 10-year-old rape victim had to travel out of state to receive an abortion,” Maharath said. “While this situation is tragic and should never have happened, I am relieved that she had the resources to leave Ohio to have a necessary medical procedure.”

Pending in the Ohio Statehouse are two bills that would ban abortion outright, with no exceptions for rape or incest. While lawmakers are no longer in session, the Republican-dominated legislature could pass either bill as soon as their return in November.

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