News Politics

ELECTION 2012: Despite National Election Victories, All’s Not Well In Ohio

Robin Marty

Despite being the state that tipped Obama over the top in electoral votes, reproductive rights in Ohio may be in more danger than ever before.

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:

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“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 Rewire 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.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.