At 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 27th, the steps of the capitol in Columbus, Ohio were filled with activists, lawmakers and medical professionals all ready to tell Republican Governor John Kasich that the state budget was no place for anti-choice policy planks. People gathered in advance of a final House and Senate vote to raise their voices in opposition to amendments intended to restrict access to safe abortion care, block access to birth control, and use public funding to support deceptive crisis pregnancy centers that trade in misinformation, not medical care. But whether the Republican governor heard them or not remains to be seen. Gov. Kasich spent the entire time in his office, refusing to take phone calls or see the visitors who came to his door.
Ohio lawmakers and reproductive rights supporters donned red clothing to rally in Columbus, vowing to recreate the enthusiasm and success that they had seen earlier in Texas. And the situation is nearly as dire. Like Texas, budget amendments include unprecedented restrictions on abortion clinics that would close down many clinics. Others would greatly reduce easy access to family planning due to funding reallocation, and give tax payer dollars for low-income assistance to religiously based pregnancy centers.
Just as alarming are last-minute additions to the bill, which would require an ultrasound before every abortion and will require providers to “locate a heartbeat” before an abortion is provided. As Luke Brockmeier wrote, that could potentially open up a loophole that could force some family planning agencies to be forced into ultrasounds before offering birth control, simply out of fear of a zealous anti-choicer who believes that the shedding of a fertilized egg is the same as an abortion.
“‘[T]he disruption of implantation of a fertilized egg’ now counts as an abortion. Prescribing birth control is, in Ohio, a ticking time-abortion,” writes Brockmeier. “Meaning, an anti-choice activist can go to Planned Parenthood and get an IUD. She can wait until she has spotting or sheds some of her uterine lining, then claim that it was an abortion caused by her IUD, and Planned Parenthood tricked her into getting an abortion, paid for by Obamacare. Where does she turn? Why, the state medical board, where Kasich appointee and Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis will welcome her with open arms.”
The new assault on medicine is just one of the reasons doctors gathered with bill opponents to speak out against the budget amendments Thursday. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Dr. Marc Parnes stated that “lawmakers asking physicians to predict pregnancy problems with the bill’s time frame is ‘asking me to do the impossible as a physician.’”
If doctors are angry about the amendments, they aren’t alone. “I’m seeing red, we are angry but what happens when we get angry, we get to work and we stand up,” said Rep. Nickie Antonio (D – Lakewood), rallying supporters at the pre-vote protest.
Rep. Antonio, Sen. Nina Turner (D – Cleveland) and other politicians urged the governor to deploy a line-item veto in ridding the budget of these amendments. Gov. Kasich told reporters that though he was still considering all of the portions of the budget, especially the newer ones he hadn’t had a chance to review as much, they should keep in mind “I’m pro-life.”
His constituents may argue that a “pro-life” governor would want to continue supporting access to birth control that would reduce the rate of abortion, and that a “pro-life” governor would ensure the budget supported needed reproductive health screenings for women in need. They might argue that it is “pro-life” to assist families struggling with temporary financial setbacks rather than funding crisis pregnancy centers that lie about medical facts which can potentially endanger those who visit. They won’t be arguing that fact to him directly, however. Activists attempting to deliver over 17,000 petitions to his office found the governor’s door closed and no response, nor would anyone answer his phone. He could lock them out and refuse to take phone calls, but he won’t be able to hide from actions of a legislature voting through a budget filled with anti-choice, anti-health amendments that had received little review or debate and no proven support by many of the voters in Ohio.
“Hundreds of Pro-choice Ohioans came to deliver 17,000 letters to Governor Kasich asking him to use his veto pen to protect women’s health and his office couldn’t be bothered to send one person to accept them,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio told RH Reality Check after the rally. “We are now in the Ohio House gallery to witness the vote in the budget. We are here for the long haul.”
Because the final version of the budget was agreed to by a six-person committee (2 Democrats and 4 Republicans), each chamber needed to reread and hold one last vote of approval. The Senate debate against the amended budget was highlighted by Sen. Shirley Smith (D – Cleveland), who panned the final product. “What was a bad bill three weeks ago is an even worse bill now.” Sen. Smith noted the new provisions were added with no feedback or oversight, that could turn doctors into criminals and leave people of less means without adequate care. “This bill is a raw deal for Ohio’s poor, and we’re stuck with the disappointment for years to come.”
Sen. Capri Carafo (D – Hubbard) took her opposition to the bill directly to the governor, appealing to his conscience and asking for line item vetoes directly. “Please Gov. Kasich, do what’s right,” she urged. Sen. Turner agreed. “I would add requests for the governor to take his red pen and veto defunding Planned Parenthood, and veto the ‘heartless’ bill as well. This budget doesn’t just show a total disregard for women, it shows a total disregard for the poor.” Sen. Turner urged the body to “Grow a pair—either ovaries or otherwise,” and reject the budget’s passage.
Democrats in the House were just as adamant in their opposition. “This budget treats women like they are too stupid to make their own health care decisions.” Rep. Debbie Phillips (D – Albany). “This may be good for your donors, but it’s not good for Ohioans.”
Despite objections, the Senate passed the budget on a 21-11 vote, followed by chants of “shame on you” from pro-choice activists in the audience. The House followed the Senate’s example a few hours later. Although Democrats chastised their counterparts for their lack of concern for women or the poor, Republicans focused entirely on “job creation.” Only one lawmaker in support of the budget directly mentioned the anti-choice amendments that were added. Rep. Rob Amstutz (R – Wooster), closed off the debate, asking why Democrats who repeatedly said they were standing up for the rights of those who weren’t there to speak for themselves wouldn’t admit that “the least of these” really should be “the unborn.” “Why do they have to be the victims?” demanded Rep. Amstutz, as the final voice of the debate.
The senate voted the bill through shortly after, on a 51-43 vote.
Overall, throughout the debate the Republicans hid from their own anti-choice amendments, the very reason they buried them in the budget in the first place. Circumventing direct votes on them gave them an excuse to not debate each one of them in a head’s on manner. Gov. Kasich, on the other hand, has until June 30th to use a line-item veto on these proposals, or answer to the voters in the next election.