After the state house and senate agree on a final version, Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich will have until June 30 to sign the state budget, a document that has become a vehicle for numerous anti-choice, anti-science amendments that would restrict access to family planning services, set the stage for closing a number of clinics that offer safe abortion care, and even strip funding from programs for low-income families and give it to deceptive crisis pregnancy centers.
Meanwhile, anti-choice legislators are proposing more direct attacks on abortion access. HB 200 would change the state’s current 24-hour waiting period to 48 hours, and would add both a forced ultrasound requirement and a rule that providers must read anti-science statements on the effects of abortion, similar to what’s been seen in “informed consent” legislation in states including Kansas.
The bill also says that an abortion can only be performed without the waiting period if there is a “medical emergency”—a change from “medical necessity”—which legislators define as a “condition of a pregnant woman that, in the reasonable judgment of the physician who is attending the woman, so complicates the medical condition of the woman that the death of the woman would result from the failure to immediately terminate the pregnancy.” As we saw in the case of Beatriz in El Salvador, an emergency may not be considered an emergency until the woman is at death’s door.
Also written into HB 200 is a never-before-seen requirement that for each abortion procedure performed either the doctor or the clinic must “disclose” the doctor’s annual income and note how much income would be lost if a patient chose not to terminate a pregnancy. This is apparently in reaction to the anti-choice notion that abortion care is a significant money-maker for doctors and facilities. It could also explain the $1 million penalty a doctor could be subject to if he or she is found non-compliant with the legislation.
Although it has been introduced, HB 200 isn’t likely to make headway in the legislature any time soon, as lawmakers are focused first on getting the budget signed. House and senate committees still need to agree on a final compromise version of the budget, but they are likely to agree on retaining amendments that would redirect Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding to crisis pregnancy centers; change family planning funding in an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood clinics, potentially leaving 11 counties in the state without access to subsizided family planning services; and give the state health department expanded powers to close abortion providers by allowing it to block public entities from offering transfer agreements or employees of public hospitals from testifying in favor of variances from the law.
Although these amendments are enthusiastically endorsed by the anti-choice politicians who approved them, Gov. Kasich, who will have the final say on whether they remain in the final budget, may be much less comfortable with them. On the one hand, he has commitments to the state anti-choice groups that supported his gubernatorial campaign, and he may fear the wrath of his own party members, who could threaten to introduce a more conservative candidate in 2014. On the other hand, he has a full state of voters he is committed to represent as governor, and the majority of those voters don’t believe that making birth control harder to access or spending taxpayer dollars meant to support the poor on deceptive crisis pregnancy centers is the best use of state resources.
The governor appears to be nervous about navigating those opposing interests. Speaking at a recent event about the state budget, Gov. Kasich physically backed away when asked about the anti-choice measures in it. “If these provisions go through with the budget … do you have any plans to line item veto it?” asked one questioner, a local medical student. “Well first of all, I’m pro-life,” Kasich replied, walking backwards from the podium. “We’ll have to wait and see how this proceeds in the house and the senate. … Just got to wait and see how it goes, and I’ll make a decision on that, and as to whether I think it goes too far or it doesn’t. But keep in mind that I’m pro-life.” He then redirected the conversation to education costs and returned to the podium.
“Pro-life” or not, the governor still has to answer to voters during his next campaign, and it’s likely that the amendments tacked onto the budget won’t sit well with many of them. “I don’t think any of it is going to be popular,” Kellie Copeland, executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, told RH Reality Check. “You’re looking at defunding family planning providers that have given excellent subsidized family planning services—that’s going to be really unpopular. The idea of taking money away from needy families and giving it to unregulated crisis pregnancy centers? We’re a practical people. No one in Ohio is going to think that’s a good thing. And then you are going to put in legislation that will effectively outlaw abortion in portions of the state? It would become a witch hunt to find any minor infraction that they could parlay into closing a safe, legal medical facility.”
“I don’t think anyone looks at the legislature and thinks that they represent the views of Ohioans. These politicians picked their constituents, not the other way around,” said Copeland, referring to the latest round of state redistricting, which created some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. “The governor has the responsibility to be the grownup here, to get beyond ideology, and to put the health care and the health needs of Ohioans before politics.”