There was a festive, victorious air as news shows and pundits declared Ohio a win for President Barack Obama, putting him over the top in the electoral college and securing his reelection. Democrats were nearly as overjoyed when Senator Sherrod Brown won what had become a neck-and-neck battle with Republican Josh Mandel, beating the GOP rising star by five percentage points.
Sadly, that surge of blue didn’t trickle down when it came to Ohio’s state legislature. What was already a predominately anti-choice House and Senate appears to have become even more hostile to women’s reproductive rights. The only judge on the state Supreme Court who didn’t oppose abortion was ousted from office, and the fate of two races that are still too close to call could mean the difference between a house block so powerful it could override all vetos and put anti-choice legislation straight on the ballot or one that still has to get hundreds of thousands of citizen signatures for approval first.
Although the election proved positive for women’s rights at the federal level, the opposite is true in many states. Conservative groups, frustrated by their inability to win the White House, their failure to take over the Senate, and their loss of gains made in many states during the Tea Party wave election in 2010 have decided that their fatal flaw in 2012 was not emphasizing anti-choice issues enough.
According to NPR, conservative groups have vowed to take their 2012 losses as a sign to fight harder, and will increase their efforts at the state level pass more rules and regulations over abortion, birth control, and health care. At a press conference attended by NPR’s Kathy Lohr, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said:
“If you truly believe that you are living in a great human civil rights movement, you don’t give up. That is why we grow as a movement. So this is the beginning of a new cycle.”
Anti-choice activists and politicians will be looking to flex their muscles and use their power in the limited areas where they still have majorities. For a state like Ohio, that means the over-the-top bills from the last few years may just be the beginning. Ohio Right to Life will continue to push onerous anti-choice bills in through the statehouse, with Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis saying they “refuse to relent simply because of the presidential outcome,” according to Gongwer Ohio News Service.
Ohio Right to Life looks forward to advancing our robust pro-life agenda we have crafted for 2013. As we look to grow and expand, we commit to our statewide membership that we will be on the front lines and serve as a voice for the voiceless.
That “robust” agenda includes trying yet again to de-fund Planned Parenthood clinics in the state, as well as another potential push to get Janet Porter’s “heartbeat ban” back on the docket. The radical attempt to ban abortion from the point at which a heartbeat could be detected—as early as 28 days post conception—stalled in the senate when Senate president Tom Neihaus refused to let it out of committee for a vote. However, Neihaus will not be returning in 2013, and Republican Keith Faber will be taking over as president. Faber has previously said that he would vote for the bill should it make it to the floor for a vote. Whether he would be willing to let it out of committee is less clear.
There may not be long to wait to find out. A lame duck session of the legislature begins on Wednesday, November 14th, and could stretch all the way until the end of the year if lawmakers were really so inclined. A Planned Parenthood bill is expected to be introduced for sure, and the heartbeat ban may very well be as well. News of a compromise between anti-choice groups Ohio Right to Life and Faith2Action, Porter’s more extreme wing is hitting the news stands. Although the compromise is under wraps, the bill will likely either be reintroduced as simply an informed consent mandatory ultrasound bill with a patient being required to listen to the heart beat, or as it was previously, with reliance on the severability of the bill as written, which would let the ban be cut off from the rest of the pre-abortion requirements if found unconstitutional.
It all depends on exactly how bold Ohio’s anti-choice movement decides to go.
“We’re still figuring out where the House might fall out with its new members,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio told RH Reality Check regarding the potential resurgence of the “heartbeat ban.” “Part of it is not just the numbers. Some of it is the political damage that they’ve done to their own cause. There’s bad blood, particularly on the senate side, with some of them going after senators, calling them RINOs [Republicans In Name Only].”
Faber, according to Copeland, is as “anti-choice as they come,” pointing to previous sponsorship of bills such as allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control and emergency contraception. His leadership in the senate combined with a near veto-proof majority could make an already reproductive rights hostile state a hotbed for anti-choice legislation.
So is Ohio doomed? Not necessarily. Republican Governor John Kasich is a major supporter of the state’s anti-choice organizations, and has begun placing anti-choicers into key state health care positions, such as Gonidakis’s recent appointment to the state medical board. However, he also is up for reelection in 2014 and will need to tread cautiously when it comes to reproductive health bills. If the results of the 2012 election taught politicians one lesson, it was that when it comes to trying to win a race that encompasses a full state—not just a tightly-controlled district with favorable demographics—denying a woman access to abortion and birth control is not a winning platform.
For a governor who saw the majority of voters across the state reject a party platform that embraced limiting a woman’s right to choose, signing on to the state GOP’s anti-women agenda could tank his chances for reelection. Will Kasich be willing to torpedo his own political career to support anti-choice legislation? The answer to that question could have the women of Ohio’s lives hanging in the balance.