Anti-Choice Ohio Legislature Reject Bill to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy

Where do babies come from? It's starting to look like the Ohio legislature is primarily responsible for them.

Ohio State Rep. Nickie J. Antonio. Photo: World News Inc.

Ohio anti-choice politicians have been working frantically to push as many bills through the lame duck legislative session as possible that restrict access to both abortion and contraception. But when it comes to policies that would help prevent pregnancies, that’s just not worth their time.

According to the Dayton Daily News, Rep. Lynn “Captain Caveman” Wachtmann allowed a comprehensive sexual health and education bill a “complimentary committee meeting,” then promptly shelved it until sometime next year. The bill, which was proposed by Democratic Rep. Nickie Antonio, would have offered a variety of positive, proactive legislation that would work to prevent unintended pregnancy, ranging from sex education in classrooms to drug parity.

Rep. Antonio’s proposal, called “Prevention First,” had three elements: comprehensive sex education, the CARE Act — Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies — and birth control benefit parity in insurance coverage. “It’s under the umbrella of ‘Prevention First’ because the rhetoric for years has been around folks being very vocal about not wanting to see women have access to any kinds of pregnancy termination or abortion care, regardless of situation,” Rep. Antonio told Rewire. “This bill says that if we in Ohio are truly concerned about reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, which would of course lead to a lessening of the necessity of a woman needing to consider an abortion, then let’s pass a prevention first bill. Certainly we all should be able to support that.”

Apparently not. Blinded by partisan politics and a rejection of anything that could be seen as a positive step towards women’s health and reproductive care, the House bill got little traction.

“Everyone says that their goal is to reduce the number of pregnancy terminations,” said Rep. Antonio. “This is about giving women the appropriate resources and the respect and care they need.”

Yet presented with real actions that would ensure women and teens have less unintended pregnancies, the anti-choice legislators had no interest in following through.

The Prevention First bill has been introduced year after year without much change it the legislative language. A companion bill is in the senate as well. But anti-choice legislators appear just as intent on restricting preventive care and contraception as they are on restricting access to abortions all together. Despite wanting to end abortion, when presented with chances to eliminate the occurrence by preventing unintended pregnancies in the first place, Ohio politicians are either attacking, as in the case of defunding Planned Parenthood, or paying lip service and then casting it aside, as they have with Prevention First.

The rejection of the bill is sadly unsurprising to those who have watched Ohio legislators focus unrelentingly on eliminating the right to choose, then campaigning on economic issues, then returning to the legislature and focusing back in on abortion and birth control.

“There have been a number of anti-choice pieces of legislation in my first two years that would restrict a woman’s access to reproductive health care in one way or another,” said Rep. Antonio, who is finishing her first term in the House. “I believe there have been more than 40 hearings on these bills. Clearly there have been lots of activities in the general assembly around these policies restricting a woman’s access to reproductive health care. These were not issues that those who are pushing these bills were talking to the electorate about. These are not the issues they campaigned on.”

Prevention First could have been ignored by anti-choice legislators in its own merits, as those politicians have rejected any bill that could be seen as proactive towards women’s health. But it also might have been tabled for another reason. One benefit to the Prevention First bill would have been to potentially mitigate some of the damage that could occur if the plan to defund Planned Parenthood becomes law, especially if access to contraception becomes as much more difficult as would be anticipated. If the GOP and others really are focused on preventing birth control access rather than their public declaration that they don’t want money to go to any group that supports abortion rights, passing a bill that would still allow more women to receive contraception via their insurance would be the last thing they would want to see happen in the state.

Sadly, abortion has remained controversial, but how is it that preventing pregnancies is, too?

“It’s very disappointing to me that in 2012 we’re having to have this discussion on issues that we believe have been fought for and won and that indicated women have complete citizenship,” said Rep. Antonio. “When you and I have to have a discussion about these kinds of bills, about ‘should Planned Parenthood be defunded,’ the loss of these kinds of respectful services for women regardless of their station, situation, marital status, what have you, it makes me very sad.”

“I think now we are talking about women’s civil rights and women not having equal status under the law. More than ever, it is important to frame into the Ohio code clearly women’s complete access to reproductive health care, so the Prevention First bill does this. It guarantees that women should have access to this type of care.”

Republican leaders had promised shortly after election day that they would not propose controversial bills during the lame duck session. Instead, they would focus on economic issues facing the state. According to Rep. Antonio, that’s exactly what they are doing, and to the detriment of Ohioans. “Limiting women’s access to reproductive health care is an economic issue on many fronts. It inhibits a woman’s ability to self determine what her economic status will be.”

This isn’t just about women’s futures, either, but the future of the state of Ohio. “This says to businesses, especially those looking to relocate, that they should be concerned about coming to Ohio, a state where women in their workforce do not have equal rights,” noted Rep. Antonio. “That troubles me greatly.”

“I have two daughters in their twenties. I’d like them to think they can move to Ohio someday. I want young people to look at this and say this is a place I can live and raise my family.”