Tuesday, all eyes were on Texas as pro-choice legislators and citizens rose up in opposition to an anti-choice omnibus bill that would, among other things, shutter most clinics in the state. In the final moments of the state legislature, SB 5 was defeated. But now Ohio is facing its own crisis over health-care access, and unlike Texas, Ohio’s anti-choice legislation is worked into the state’s budget.
That’s exactly where Ohio’s anti-choice politicians want it. Tucking abortion restrictions into a massive budget bill provides them the cover they need to try and sneak the measures through without public debate. To prove that point, the six-member committee that reconciled the final version of the budget has added yet another abortion restriction to the package—a bill that will also force all pregnant people to undergo an ultrasound prior to getting an abortion in order to detect a fetal or embryonic heartbeat, a legislative maneuver that has been in the works in some form since the failed “heartbeat” ban of 2011.
The budget was already chock full of red meat for the anti-choice base. One amendment would re-prioritize family planning dollars to put Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics last in line in the attempt to defund them has remained intact in the budget, despite the announcement that such a move would leave up to 11 Ohio counties with no access to subsidized family planning. Another would give taxpayer dollars meant to assist needy families to deceptive crisis pregnancy centers, like the one that was caught in this recent video telling a potential patient that the morning-after pill will put her in the hospital with hemorrhage and cervical damage. Yet another amendment would make it much more difficult for abortion clinic to obtain and maintain state-mandated transfer agreements; it was introduced in part to ensure that all of the abortion providers in Toledo are shut down, but it could have far-reaching implications that would put every clinic in the state in danger.
At least those three amendments were briefly debated, however one-sided and inevitable the end result may have been in a majority anti-choice legislature. The provision to mandate detecting a heartbeat prior to an abortion was approved with no warning or debate, and was approved by only four legislative members. The move led one member of the committee to accuse state lawmakers of being “obsessed with abortion.”
“Today Governor Kasich and the GOP leadership have prioritized playing political games with woman’s access to basic health-care services,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said in statement responding to the final budget. “If the Governor and members of the Ohio General Assembly want to practice medicine they should go to medical school.”
Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, has the ability to line-item veto amendments in the final budget; he will have the next few days to decide if he intends to side with the most extreme members of the right wing of his party, or with the the citizens he represents, many of whom say they do not want to see more abortion regulations, to see Planned Parenthood and family planning clinic defunding, or to give their own tax dollars to misleading, religious-based crisis pregnancy centers.
“We urge Governor Kasich to veto these dangerous provisions from the budget,” said Copeland. “Party politics has no place in a woman’s private health-care decision. The time is now to stand up and lead, not in the interests of his party, but in the interests of the women and families he has been elected to lead.”
To help impress upon the governor that Ohioans, like Texans, won’t remain silent when their rights are being taken from them, reproductive rights advocates have scheduled a rally at the capitol on Thursday morning to spotlight all the constituents who believe “that Ohio’s Budget should not be the ‘Abortion Budget.'”
Much like in Texas, the people are already speaking. Within hours of the final budget announcement, Gov. Kasich’s voicemail box was already filled by voters weighing in on his decision. Will he stand with them, or with the extremists in his own party who has put their obsession with abortion ahead of any other item in their agenda?