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Government & Politics

Abortion Will Remain Major Issue in New General Assembly

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DAN KONIK
/
STATEHOUSE NEWS BUREAU

The Ohio Legislature recently passed two controversial abortion bills. Gov. John Kasich vetoed one that would have banned abortion at the point a fetal heartbeat is detected. Lawmakers could override the veto but it doesn’t look likely, at this point, that they’ll have enough votes to do that.

Kasich signed the other bill. It bans a procedure commonly used in abortions at 12 weeks gestation. But those were not the only abortion bills lawmakers considered this year.

Some bills that didn’t make it through the process will likely be coming back once the new legislature is seated in January.

Exit polling from November’s election showed the economy and health care were the issues most voters identified as top priorities in their voting decisions. One issue that was down farther on that list was abortion. But Ohio lawmakers spent a lot of time debating that one.

While the so called “heartbeat bill” and the 12 week abortion ban did pass, others did not. One was a bill that required fetal remains be cremated or buried. It passed the Ohio Senate in January. Republican Representative Joe Uecker of Cincinnati was its sponsor. “It seeks to promote and honor the dignity of the unborn by insuring procedures are in place to properly dispose of fetal remains.”

But Jaime Miracle of NARAL Pro Choice Ohio says women throughout the state already have the choice to cremate or bury fetal remains if they want. “This bill isn’t about making sure women have options. It is about limiting which options exist. It’s about shaming women who have abortions and medical professionals who provide abortion care.”

The bill, which was supported by Ohio Right to Life, passed out of a House committee later in the year but didn’t make it to the full House vote.

Another bill would abolish abortion altogether. It was introduced and assigned to a committee but never went further even though 18 of the 99 house members had signed on as sponsors or co-sponsors. 

At the heart of all of these bills is an ideological and political divide between lawmakers over the controversial issue. Some, like State Senator Peggy Lehner, a former leader of Dayton Right to Life, think it is the duty of lawmakers to pass many of these anti-abortion measures. “You know it’s a living human being. Those of you who are mothers or fathers, at any point in your wife or your own pregnancy, did you think of your unborn baby as a fetus, as something other than a small, fragile new life.”

There’s a political reality here too, especially for Republican lawmakers. Lori Viars is with Warren County Right to Life and the Conservative Republican Leadership Committee. “The conservative groups across the state, the pro-life groups and the pastor’s networks are in unity, I mean full court press. Everybody’s tired of eight years and not doing it. Everybody is tired of empty pro-life promises from pro-life people at election time.”

photo of abortion protesters at the Statehouse
Credit KAREN KASLER / STATEHOUSE NEWS BUREAU
Protesters at the Ohio Statehouse.

Groups that support abortion rights are also putting pressure on lawmakers to reject these bills. And have held several rallies at the Statehouse.

Democratic State Senator Charleta Tavares of Columbus is one of those who says passing bans on abortion won’t stop it. “Women will still have abortions, just like they have from the beginning of time. It will just be a cruel, and dangerous, very dangerous way of doing it.”

Democratic Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Youngstown read part of the testimony from a sex trafficking survivor who became pregnant at the age of 11. She followed the guidance of a fellow 13-year old who had been in the same situation. “She loaded me up with alcohol and drugs and made me take cold showers and beat my stomach until I bled heavily, and we knew it was over.”

The lack of exceptions for rape and incest in these bills bothers some lawmakers. Doctors have been testifying that they’ve had colleagues who moved out of state because of increasing abortion regulations. And opponents say the restrictions being passed or considered now are unconstitutional.

In April, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals became the second to strike down a 2016 Ohio law that diverted federal family planning dollars away from Planned Parenthood. In 2016, Cincinnati federal Judge Michael Barrett blocked the law from being implemented and declared it unconstitutional. And just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from Kansas and Louisiana for a similar law that had been struck down in those states. That decision included the court’s two newest members, thought by many to be the ones who would swing the court to eventually overturn the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision.