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Debate over abortion in Ohio taking shape in U.S. Senate and other statewide races

Ariel view of crowd at abortion rights rally at Ohio Statehouse on June 20, 2022
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Ariel view of crowd at abortion rights rally at Ohio Statehouse on June 20, 2022

Democratic candidates in Ohio are pushing for abortion to be a key issue in their campaigns for statewide office, from the U.S. Senate race to the contest for Ohio attorney general.

The political landscape has shifted for candidates since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and Ohio instated its six-week abortion ban. And with that shift comes an adjustment in how candidates take on the issue of abortion, which was a constitutional right less than a month ago.

On Tuesday, Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Tim Ryan welcomed the endorsement of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio. While discussing his support for abortion rights, Ryan addressed his stance on abortions that could happen perhaps as late as eight months into a pregnancy. He said abortion in those scenarios is rare and considered only in dire circumstances.

“Clearly something really bad has happened, something really tragic has happened. That woman and her doctor need to be able to save the life of the mother and deal with a very complicated circumstance. And I just don’t think that the government is in that room right there to make that decision," Ryan said.

Ryan’s comments come at a time when Republican opponents have been criticizing Democratic politicians, particularly over their stance on late-term abortion.

A spokeswoman for Ryan’s opponent, Republican U.S. Senate nominee J.D. Vance, went as far as saying Ryan “wants to mandate taxpayer-funded late-term abortion on demand with no restrictions.”

But the 2020 Ohio Abortion Report says of the 20,605 abortions conducted in Ohio during that year, none of them were performed in cases where the fetus was between 25 and 36 weeks of gestation. While Ohio law at the time banned abortions 20 weeks into a pregnancy, it still allowed for the procedure to prevent death or serious risk to the pregnant woman.

The National Institute of Health has identified 24 weeks as being the earliest a fetus in the United States would be viable outside the womb. Much of the talk on the abortion issue centers around abortions performed after that point, in what are commonly called late-term abortions.

Polls show little support for abortion in all cases and little support for banning abortion altogether. The majority say they approve of limits on abortion in some cases and under some circumstances.

Ryan, who once opposed abortion due to his Catholic faith, said he’d vote to codify Roe, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortions nationally pre-viability.

Taylor Van Kirk, spokeswoman for Vance, said he opposes abortion in all cases except to save the life of a mother. He has been endorsed by Ohio Right to Life.

In a written statement issued after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, which gave power to regulate abortions back to the state, Vance said he'd focus on making sure mothers have the resources they need to take care of their children, expand adoption opportunities, and promote centers that help pregnant women.

Other statewide candidates speaking out about the issue

It's not just the high-profile U.S. Senate race where candidates are drawing lines on the issue.

Jeff Crossman, the Democrat running for Ohio attorney general, said he believes the state's new law that bans abortions at about six weeks into a pregnancy is unconstitutional. The ban is in effect now but being considered by a court and Crossman said he won't defend it in court if he's elected.

“I believe this law to be unconstitutional. And I don’t believe the attorney general is obligated to defend unconstitutional laws,” Crossman said.

Crossman said he feels the state's new ban violates federal equal protection laws.

In contrast, Republican Attorney General Dave Yost delivered on his promise to ask a federal court to put the six-week abortion ban in place soon after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion.

Yost, who opposes abortion, has said the U.S. Supreme Court returned abortion regulations to the states, where they belong. Yost has defended other abortion restrictions and laws during his time in office.

Candidates for Ohio governor also have different views on the subject. Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, has told abortion opponents he'd go "as far as he can" to eliminate abortion in Ohio. But when asked about bills in the Ohio Legislature that would fully eliminate abortion, DeWine was less clear about which specific proposal he might support.

"The legislature isn't even going to come back until November so we'll deal with it then," DeWine said.

DeWine's Democratic opponent, former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, has said she supports abortion rights and would endorse a proposed ballot initiative to support legal abortion rights in Ohio. But that proposal hasn't yet been introduced so it's unclear what limits, if any, on abortion will be included in that measure if and when it comes to fruition.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment. Jo started her career in Louisville, Kentucky in the mid 80’s when she helped produce a televised presidential debate for ABC News, worked for a creative services company and served as a general assignment report for a commercial radio station. In 1989, she returned back to her native Ohio to work at the WOSU Stations in Columbus where she began a long resume in public radio.