News Abortion

Ohio Enacted Some of the Nation’s Toughest Abortion Restrictions—What Now?

Robin Marty

Although disappointed, reproductive rights groups are already looking ahead as they try to come to terms with this new landscape.

Because Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich refused to line-item veto any of the five anti-choice amendments tucked into the massive state budget for the 2014 fiscal year, the most vulnerable Ohioans will likely find themselves with less access to family planning services, health screenings, and abortion providers and undergoing medically unnecessary ultrasounds. At the same time, they will see their tax dollars used to support religious crisis pregnancy centers that are intended to convince women not to seek abortions. Meanwhile, centers that help individuals who have been sexually assaulted are in danger of losing funding if they refer for or even mention the possibility of an abortion.

Although disappointed, reproductive rights groups are already looking ahead as they try to come to terms with this new landscape.

The budget items themselves, although signed into law, will not go into effect for 90 days, giving the groups most likely to be affected and their allies some time to evaluate their options. Some of those options may include fundraising, litigation, and preparing in advance for the 2014 election.

“We’re diligently working to determine the ‘what’s next’ here in Ohio,” Celeste Glasgow Ribbins, director of media, marketing, communication for Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, told Rewire via email. “We’re examining our options and looking at, for example, whether we can talk to folks at the federal level providing grants directly to the family planning providers instead of sending the money to the states.”

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The federal government is increasingly foregoing local governing bodies and giving Title X funds directly to clinics to support lower-income and uninsured individuals as more defunding bills make it into law. This is true in cities like Memphis and even entire states, such as Texas. With that precedent already set, Ohio could be the next to follow suit.

Family planning clinics could be rescued through intervention from the federal level, but that’s not the case with abortion clinics, which now will come under more direct scrutiny by a state Board of Health (which includes Mike Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, as one of its members).

The new rule requiring a transfer agreement to a hospital that is not publicly funded is likely to close the only provider left in Toledo. The other clinic in the city, Center for Choice, shut down last month after the proposed amendment threatened to strip it of its license.

It’s unclear how many other providers will have to find new arrangements now that they can no longer get a transfer agreement with a public hospital, and doctors from public hospitals will be unable to testify on behalf of clinics that require variances from the law. What is clear is that the director of the Department of Health will be able to scrutinize any clinic for the smallest of provocations, a prospect that leaves many providers feeling uneasy.

“Mike Gonidakis and Ohio Right to Life have an enormous amount of access and power at the Ohio Department of Health both because of Mr. Gonidakis’s place on the Ohio State Medical Board, but also because of their very cozy relationship with Governor Kasich,” NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland told Rewire. “This relationship and this access has already had a chilling effect on medical providers across the state. People are worried that there is going to be a witch hunt, that they will use their power in a way that wasn’t intended, that they will find a minor infraction that doesn’t impact health care and that they will use that as an excuse to close women’s health centers.”

The potential closure of both family planning and abortion clinics is a big concern for reproductive health groups and activists in the state. “Our concern is that with clinics closing, whether they be family planning clinics or abortion clinics, is that cancer will go undetected, that women who need health care will resort to conducting procedures on themselves or relying on medications that they get over the internet or things that might not be safe,” said Copeland. “Our concern is without access to licensed quality medical providers … women’s health will suffer, and women will pay the price for this extremist agenda.”

Ohio lawmakers’ anti-choice agenda has drawn national attention from reproductive rights supporters who have been energized by the recent battles in Texas and other states. Copeland said, to individuals outside Ohio wondering how they can help, that right now the needs are simple: money, pressure, and coverage. She urged those who can to “get out their checkbook and fund the fight,” with donations to groups that are fighting the legislation, abortion funds that assist pregnant people in need, or family planning clinics whose doors may close if their funding is cut. The efforts to contact Gov. Kasich by phone, email, Facebook, and Twitter should continue as well, she said, noting that the governor neither answered direct questions about the anti-choice provisions prior to the budget signing nor took questions on them after he refused to veto.

“The really important thing that activists can do right now is make sure that Ohio voters know that Governor Kasich, who claims to have a singular focus on jobs and economy, has become the worst anti-choice governor in Ohio history,” said Copeland. “He is now sending more restrictions on access to family planning clinics, abortion care, and even information than any other governor in Ohio history. He may think that he doesn’t work for the taxpayers of Ohio, but we know better, and we have an absolute right and responsibility to tell him exactly what these measures he signed into law are going to do to Ohio women and their families.”

News Politics

Ohio Legislator: ‘Aggressive Attacks’ May Block Voters From the Polls

Ally Boguhn

Efforts to remove voters from state rolls and curb access to the polls could have an outsized impact in Ohio, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership.

Ohio Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) said she is worried about the impact of what she called “aggressive attacks” on voting rights in her state.

Ohio voters who have not engaged in voter activity in a fixed period of time, generally two years, are considered by the state to have moved, which then begins the process of removing them from their rolls through something called the “Supplemental Process.” If a voter fails to respond to a postcard mailed to them to confirm their address, they become “inactive voters.” If an inactive voter does not engage in voter activity for four years, they’re automatically unregistered to vote and must re-register to cast a ballot. 

Though other states routinely clean voting rolls, most don’t use failure to vote as a reason to remove someone.

“We have two million voters purged from the rolls in the last five years, many in the last four years since the last presidential election,” Clyde said during an interview with Rewire

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) dismissed concerns of the voter purges’ impact during an interview with Reuters. “If this is really important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period,” he said.

Ohio’s removal of voters through this process “is particularly problematic in the lead-up to the November 2016 federal election because voters who voted in the high-turnout 2008 federal election (but who did not vote in any subsequent elections) were removed from voter rolls in 2015,” according to an amicus curiae brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights division in support of those who filed suit against Ohio’s law. 

The DOJ has urged the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court’s ruling in favor of the state, writing that Ohio’s voter purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Since 2012, at least 144,000 voters have been removed from Ohio’s voter rolls in its three biggest counties, Reuters reported. The secretary of state’s office said 2 million registered voters had been taken off the rolls in the past five years, though many had been removed because they were deceased.

Husted contends that he is just enforcing the law. “Ohio manages its voter rolls in direct compliance of both federal and state laws, and is consistent with an agreement in this same federal court just four years ago,” Husted said in an April statement after the ACLU of Ohio and Demos, a voting rights organization, filed a lawsuit in the matter.

In predominantly Black neighborhoods near downtown Cincinnati, “more than 10 percent of registered voters have been removed due to inactivity since 2012,” reported Reuters. The outlet found that several places where more voters had cast ballots for President Obama in 2012 were the same locations experiencing higher percentages of purged voters.

“Some of the data is showing that African Americans voters and Democratic voters were much more likely affected,” Clyde said when discussing the state’s purge of registered voters. 

Clyde has requested data on those purged from the rolls, but has been turned down twice. “They’ve said no in two different ways and are referring me to the boards of elections, but there are 88 boards of election,” she told RewireWith limited staff resources to devote to data collection, Clyde is still searching for a way to get answers.

In the meantime, many otherwise eligible voters may have their votes thrown away and never know it.

“[P]eople that had been purged often don’t know that they’ve been purged, so they may show up to vote and find their name isn’t on the roll,” Clyde said. “Then, typically that voter is given a provisional ballot and … told that the board of elections will figure out the problem with their voter registration. And then they don’t really receive notice that that provisional ballot doesn’t eventually count.” 

Though the state’s voter purges could continue to disenfranchise voters across the state, it is hardly the only effort that may impact voting rights there.

“There have been a number of efforts undertaken by the GOP in Ohio to make voting more difficult,” Clyde said. “That includes fighting to shorten the number of early voting days available, that includes fighting to throw out people’s votes that have been cast—whether it be a provisional ballot or absentee ballot—and that includes purging more voters than any other state.” 

This could make a big difference for voters in the state, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership—including failed Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich.

“So aside from the terrible effect that has on the fundamental right to vote in Ohio, progressives who maybe are infrequent voters or are seeing what’s happening around [reproductive rights and health] issues and want to express that through their vote may experience problems in Ohio because of these aggressive attacks on voting rights,” Clyde said. 

“From our presidential candidates on down to our candidates for the state legislature, there is a lot at stake when it comes to reproductive health care and reproductive rights in this election,” Clyde added. “So I think that, if that is an issue that is important to any Ohioan, they need to have their voice heard in this election.” 

News Family Planning

Judge Thwarts Ohio GOP’s Attack on Planned Parenthood Funding

Michelle D. Anderson

“This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care—this law would have made a bad situation worse,” said Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio.

An effort to defund Ohio Planned Parenthood affiliates by Gov. John Kasich (R) and the Republican-held legislature has come to an end.

Judge Michael R. Barrett of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio on Friday ruled in Planned Parenthood’s favor, granting a permanent injunction on an anti-choice state law.

The court ruling will keep Richard Hodges, the Ohio Department of Health director, from enforcing HB 294.

The 2015 law, sponsored by Rep. Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland) and Rep. Margaret Conditt (R-Butler County), would have redirected $1.3 million in state and federal taxpayer funds from Planned Parenthood’s 28 clinics in Ohio.

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The law would have required the state department to keep federal funds and materials that the health department receives from being distributed to entities that perform or promote non-therapeutic abortions, or maintain affiliation with any entity that does.

Funding that would’ve been cut off from the state health department went to the Violence Against Women and Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention acts, the Infertility Prevention Project, Minority HIV/AIDS and Infant Mortality Reduction initiatives, and the Personal Responsibility Education Program.

Planned Parenthood in a lawsuit argued that the Republican legislation violated the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Barrett had temporarily blocked the law after Planned Parenthood affiliates filed the lawsuit and requested a preliminary injunction. The judge had issued an opinion contending that some legislators passed the law to make it difficult for people to access abortion care, as Rewire reported.

Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, praised the judge’s temporary order.

“This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care—this law would have made a bad situation worse,” Harvey said in a statement.

Kellie Copeland, NARAL Pro Choice Ohio’s executive director, said in a statement that the Ohio legislature passed the anti-choice measure in an effort to appeal to conservative voters in early primary states during Kasich’s presidential campaign.

Copeland said that while the legislation made no effort to reduce the number of abortions performed, “it actively blocked critical health care for low-income women and families.”

Planned Parenthood said those services included 70,000 free STD screenings, thousands of HIV tests for at-risk community residents, and the largest infant mortality prevention program in the state.

In the 23-page court order and opinion, Barrett, an appointee of President George W. Bush, acknowledged that the law would have deterred “patients from seeking these potentially life-saving services.”

Planned Parenthood noted that the recent ruling in Ohio makes it among the ten states where courts have blocked anti-choice laws following June’s landmark Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

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