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Ohio abortion-rights group protests restrictions

Regina Garcia Cano, Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- About 70 abortion-rights supporters gathered Thursday outside the Ohio Statehouse to protest restrictions on abortion providers that Republican lawmakers slipped into the proposed state budget at the last minute.

Republicans amended the state's spending bill earlier this week to require abortion providers to inform pregnant women seeking the procedure if a fetal heartbeat is present. They also added a provision that prohibits doctors from performing an abortion without determining the presence of a fetal heartbeat "unless there is a medical emergency" and redefines what constitutes a medical emergency.

"Not only is the content of this reprehensible and controlling measures offensive, the way they tried to slip these provisions into the budget bill (was) like thieves in the night," Democratic Sen. Nina Turner told the crowd. "They need to stand up and have some courage and stop showing cowardice."

The Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice scheduled Thursday's rally ahead of votes planned in the House and Senate on Ohio's $62 billion, two-year budget plan.

Lawmakers approved the state's spending bill hours after the rally.

Senate President Keith Faber defended members of his party from accusations that they slipped the abortion restrictions into the bill at the last minute. Following the measure's approval in the Senate, Faber said, changes shouldn't come as a surprise because amendments are part of the budget negotiating process.

"This was no different than what's happened in conference committees from the beginning of time," Faber said.

Three gynecologists who practice in Columbus clinics condemned the proposed changes during the rally. They particularly criticized the redefinition of a medical emergency. They said it would limit the time they have to save the life of a woman who needs an abortion to survive.

"Do I tell the patient and family I cannot intervene unless she has a stroke or worse?" said Dr. Anita Somani. "Or do I risk going to jail because I'm doing what's best for my patient by saving her life and the cost of her pre-viable fetus?"

The protesters also opposed a budget provision that effectively defunds Planned Parenthood, whose health care offerings to low-income patients can include abortions. At the end of the rally, they chanted "line-item veto" in calling upon Republican Gov. John Kasich to eliminate the restrictions.

Kasich opposes abortion, but has not said whether he would remove the restrictions.

After the state's spending bill was approved in the Senate on a partisan-split vote, women in the audience, most of them sporting pink T-shirts proclaiming support for Planned Parenthood, were escorted out of the chamber after they yelled: "Shame on you, shame on you!"