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Ohio Legislature Seeks to Punish Women with Unconstitutional Bills During Lame Duck Session

Robin Marty

Is the state's anti-choice faction taking its revenge on the women of Ohio?  

Just as promised, a “compromise” may have been reached between Ohio’s anti-choice activist groups Ohio Right to Life and Faith2Action on the long blocked “heartbeat ban” that would make abortion illegal from the moment an embryonic heartbeat can be detected.

That compromise? Make it even more restrictive.

The “heartbeat ban” was always intended to be unconstitutional. The extreme group Faith2Action proposed it as a way to invoke a challenge to Roe v. Wade, allowing a possibility for the case to work its way through the court systems and end up in front of the Supreme Court. Ohio Right to Life, on the other hand, urged caution, worried that if the case made it all the way up the ladder, Roe would be reaffirmed rather than overturned.

Rumor has it that caution has been thrown out the window. Although previously anti-choice politicians showed reluctance to write a law so destined for a court challenge, now they have decided that rather than write a more constitutional bill, they will instead break it into pieces. Should the bill fail to overcome a legal challenge, the unconstitutional aspects of it can be dropped, and a defanged, more moderate set of  pre-termination restrictions will remain instead.

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With that sort of “get out of jail free” card attached, the bill’s backers have allegedly decided to go all out when it comes to unconstitutional abortion bans. According to speculation from multiple sources, rather than just banning abortion at the point of a heartbeat—which could be as much as 4 weeks post conception—they have chosen to write the bill so abortion is banned at conception itself. Should that be struck down by the courts, the ban would revert to the heartbeat as it was originally proposed. If the courts strike that down, then the law would default to a trigger law that would go into effect if Roe ever is overturned, banning abortion at any point and for any reason. Until that goes into effect, women would still be required to have a forced ultrasound prior to terminating a pregnancy, and be forced to listen to the embryonic heartbeat before having an abortion.

The actual bill hasn’t yet been introduced for Thursday’s senate session. Those who support abortion rights have noted that the anti-choice political groups have been playing it close to the vest, not wanting to unveil too soon a bill that most believe they have been working on quietly and out of sight while the bulk of attention has been on the 2012 election.

“We knew all along that the bill was still alive,” state Senator Nina Turner told Rewire. “It’s crystal clear what they are doing. They have been working on this all this time and here it is. They are following through on everything they said they would.”

Senate Leader Tom Niehaus may have blocked the original “heartbeat ban” from coming out of committee prior to the election, but now that he is finishing his final days in the senate and the contentious 2012 elections are over, he’s ready to take the ban up.

“I’m not surprised,” said Turner, who said Neihaus never actually spoke out against the ban while he was blocking it. “This has always been on their agenda. They are very shrewd, they took this behind the scenes while we waged this fierce battle nationally.”

“I’m stunned,” Turner said, addressing the multitude of reproductive health care bills that are rumored to be put before the legislature during the lame duck session. “The voters in this state in particular have spoken very loudly that they don’t want this extremism, then for the Republicans at the state level to disregard this message is astonishing to me. They are arrogant, they are inebriated with power, and that is exactly what we see going on here.”

The modified, more-restrictive-than-ever “heartbeat ban” isn’t the only thing the anti-choice politicians are ready to use against the women of Ohio. An attempt to defund Planned Parenthood by introducing a tiered payment system for Medicaid recipients will be introduced in the House, despite public outcry when Republicans attempted the same defunding scheme earlier in the year.

Tiered payments are the new attempt to defund Planned Parenthood without defunding the provider outright, an action which could cause states to lose their Medicaid funding all together. By giving out Medicaid funding in a preferential, tiered manner, and setting Planned Parenthood last in line, the state virtually guarantees that by the time the reproductive health care provider comes to the table, the money will have run out.

When the Ohio legislature last attempted to put through the tiered program, the public outcry cowed them, especially once it became clear that some of the health care clinics that would receive funding for contraception may not necessarily offer birth control.

Stephanie Kight, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio sees the legislature’s obsession with curtailing reproductive health access as an answer to political defeat puzzling.

“We are all surprised by the intense hostility that has come out of the Ohio legislature about women’s health care,” Kight told Rewire. “We find it frustrating and dangerous.”

The move to once more try to eliminate funding to Planned Parenthood clinics in Ohio is especially out of step with the will of the residents in the state, something anti-choice politicians seem unconcerned about.

“I don’t know if they care. Their actions would certainly indicate that they don’t care,” said Kight.

The reason [the defunding attempt] didn’t go anywhere before was that women spoke up loudly and clearly about the importance of health care and the importance of Planned Parenthood as a healthcare provider here in Ohio. We see over 100,000 patients every year, and these are patients who choose to come to Planned Parenthood as a healthcare provider. So we know that we are an important provider and women who come to us for healthcare have let their elected officials know that they want the funding to be kept in Planned Parenthood so that we can continue to see patients and serve Ohioans.

An attempt to remove funding from family health clinics like Planned Parenthood and provide it first to health centers without full scale services who do not offer all forms of contraception could leave Ohio women once more struggling to meet their health care needs. “There are two issues here. First, there is where the centers are. Every health-care provider in Ohio would tell you there are not enough providers in Ohio now,” explained Kight. “If you start eliminating health care providers like Planned Parenthood and other family planning providers who would be eliminated in this bill, there simply will not be enough family planning providers to meet the need. Secondly, those health care providers that the legislature thinks they can redirect the money to don’t offer the scope of care that Planned Parenthood and other family planning providers in Ohio offers. There would be less providers and less scope of care, leading to less access and bigger health problems for Ohio women.”

As if an all-out ban on abortion and a bill that will make it significantly more difficult for low income women in the state to access contraception weren’t bad enough, abortion opponents are also proposing a PRENDA-style ban on abortions that are believed to be based on the race or gender of the fetus. The fact that there has been no actual evidence that there is an issue with women seeking out abortions for these reasons, nor any clear consensus on how such a ban might be enforced may have derailed a similar bill from passing the United States senate, but for Ohio, that’s no deterrent.

One last thumb of the nose to pro-choice voters during the lame duck session? The senate will also vote to approve the appointment of former Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis to one of the three non-medical seats on the state’s medical board. It’s a move that has many even more concerned about Governor John Kasich’s obvious desire to empower anti-choice activists at every level of the government. The appointment signals that despite the voters message, Kasich will continue to restrict abortion and birth control access by any means possible.

“The last thing we need right now is to inject divisive single issue politics in the regulation of medical practices in Ohio,” said Planned Parenthood Advocate’s Kight. “Our medical board needs to focus on the licensure of physicians and enforcement of the medical practices act. The appointment of the president of the Ohio Right to life on the medical board is simply an ideological appointment to effect the medical practices around Ohio. It is not a good practice.”

Each of these bills are expected to make an appearance in a lame duck session that seems to be rabidly focused on attacking women’s reproductive rights. In fact, some wonder if it might be some sort of payback for a state where a majority of voters sided with the progressive, pro-women platforms of President Barack Obama and Sen. Sherrod Brown.

“It’s like this is their revenge on Ohio women,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland. “‘You voted for Brown and Obama? Well, this is what you get.’ They not only didn’t learn their lesson from this election, they’ve decided they want to punish us, too.”

Kight agrees that Ohio legislators need to move their focus back to jobs and the economic security of the state, as they promised to do both during the election and after the results were in.

“Instead of focusing on making it more difficult to access healthcare, our legislature should be focused on implementing the Affordable Care Act so Ohioans and Ohio women have more access to health care. They should be focusing on strengthening the economy and increasing the number of jobs Ohioans can get, not on denying women access to health care and not interfering with our personal and private medical decisions,” said Kight. “That’s what Ohioans said in this election and that’s what we will hold them to.”

Sen. Turner, on the other hand, doesn’t see this new attack on reproductive rights as payback at all, but just another sign of their contempt for women and women’s rights. “Their disdain for women has been obvious ever since they introduced this bill,” said Turner, referring to the “heartbeat ban.” “It really shows that Ohio Republicans, just like their counterparts across the nation, have a disdain for women. They don’t respect their bodies or minds.”

“I don’t think this is revenge. They planned this all along. This is how they treat women. They are treating us like we are second class citizens. This is far beyond abortion. This is about reproductive health and reproductive rights that men disproportionately feel like they are entitled to tell us what we can or cannot do with our bodies. And really treating women like we are carriers. Like we don’t have a heart, we don’t have a soul, we don’t have a mind.”

“They say they care about life, yet they completely disregard the woman’s life,” Turner said. “They don’t see the irony in that.”

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