Pro-Choice Ohio Lawmakers Hit Back Against GOP Abortion Restrictions

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Pro-Choice Ohio Lawmakers Hit Back Against GOP Abortion Restrictions

Teddy Wilson

Ohio legislators unveiled a collection of bills last week that would repeal some of the state’s harshest anti-choice laws, many of which were passed in recent years by Ohio's Republican-dominated state legislature.

Ohio legislators unveiled a collection of bills last week that would repeal some of the state’s harshest anti-choice laws, many of which were passed in recent years by Ohio’s Republican-dominated state legislature.

Democratic lawmakers, joined by reproductive rights advocates, announced the bills at a press conference last Thursday.

Rep. Greta Johnson, (D-Akron) said that Democrats would introduce six bills that seek to address medical accuracy, safety, cost, and barriers associated with women’s access to reproductive health care in the state.

“We are not damsels in distress tied to railroad tracks,” Johnson said at a news conference, reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “We are the train and we are carrying the message we will not tolerate further infringement of a constitutionally protected right to abortion care.”

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The legislation seems unlikely to pass in the GOP-controlled Ohio state legislature. Republicans hold a 65-34 advantage in the house and a 23-10 advantage in the senate.

Johnson and her colleagues said they are undeterred by the Republicans’ control of the state legislature.

Republican lawmakers have proposed several anti-choice bills in recent years, and Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a massive omnibus anti-choice bill in 2013. The presidential hopeful has overseen a systematic erosion of abortion access throughout Ohio during his time as governor.

Abortion clinics are required under state law to obtain agreements with non-public hospitals to transfer emergency patients there. A law banning abortion clinicsand no other medical facility—from obtaining transfer agreements from “public hospitals” was passed by GOP lawmakers in 2013.

Along with anti-choice transfer agreements, clinics that provide abortion services are required to meet ambulatory surgical facilities building requirements.

Since the passage of these laws, the number of clinics that provide surgical abortion care in the state has declined from 14 to nine. Advocates claim at least three of those remaining clinics, including the two Planned Parenthood clinics, are in jeopardy of closing, and they have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the anti-choice, GOP-backed regulations.

Among the other proposals announced are a repeal of Ohio’s ban on using public dollars on abortion care, as well as a repeal of the ban on insurance coverage of abortions for state employees and Ohioans who purchase insurance on the Affordable Care Act online exchange.

Another pro-choice proposal would eliminate the medically unnecessary 24-hour forced waiting period before a woman can have an abortion.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said in a statement that women’s health is best protected by allowing them to get an abortion procedure as early as possible.  

“Forcing a woman to travel outside her community, delaying her procedure for a 24 hour reflection period, or forcing her to scrape together money because her insurance is banned from covering the procedure are all barriers that designed to prevent her from accessing abortion care with a safe, licensed health care provider,” Copeland said. “This new legislation will remove these obstacles.”

Two of the proposed bills would also address ways in which anti-choice activists attempt to restrict access to abortion care.

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which seek to deter women from accessing abortion care with misinformation, are targeted by the pro-choice proposals. CPCs would be required to provide “medically accurate” information if they receive federal funding. Another proposal would seek to protect doctors and clinic patients from harassment by anti-choice activists who regularly protest at abortion clinics.

“It’s legislators telling people what they should do, when it’s constitutionally protected for people to make a decision based on what is best for their families,” Rep. Stephanie Howse, (D-Cleveland) said during the press conference, reported the Columbus Dispatch. “We need to tell legislators to stay out of family matters, personal decisions, and get back to the real work of … helping Ohioans get back to work, properly educating our children, and properly supporting families.”

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, told the Columbus Dispatch that the bills are a publicity stunt and fundraising material.

Gonidakis has been directly involved with the shuttering of Ohio’s abortion clinics. Kasich in 2012 appointed Gonidakis to the State Medical Board, a body in part responsible for the licensing of abortion clinics.