Ohio Republicans, who have used dubious legislative tactics to pass some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws, may once again use the budget process to advance draconian anti-choice measures.
The GOP-held state senate on Wednesday approved a $65.4 billion state budget that made significant changes to the budget passed by the Republican-majority house. The budget will head to a conference committee after the house voted to reject the changes made by the senate.
Republicans and Democrats from both chambers will negotiate behind closed doors and attempt to bridge the gap between the house and state senate budgets. Lawmakers are under a time crunch to complete the budget before a June 30 deadline.
The budget negotiations will be watched by pro-choice and anti-choice groups, as Republican lawmakers in previous negotiations have used the budget process as a vehicle to pass laws eroding access to abortion care.
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Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, told the Toledo Blade that the organization will take advantage of any opportunity to further their agenda.
“I always look at various avenues to include pro-life legislation, including the budget,” said Gonidakis. “That being said, I do not anticipate at this time pro-life language being added to the budget. But I am hopeful.”
Ohio Republicans in 2013 passed a budget that included several abortion restrictions, including forced ultrasounds, medically unnecessary restrictions on transfer agreements between abortion clinics and hospitals, and funding restrictions for abortion providers and rape crisis centers.
After Gov. John Kasich (R) signed the budget, reproductive rights advocates took the state to court and challenged the law. A state judge ruled in 2015 that the law violated the Ohio Constitution’s “Single-Subject Rule,” which requires bills contain only one subject.
In 2015, lawmakers attached an amendment to the budget that would automatically deny licenses for abortion clinics if the state department of health took no action on the application within 60 days, which advocates said was designed to force the closure of at least one clinic.
Gabriel Mann, spokesperson for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, told the Blade that using the budget process to restrict abortion access subverts the democratic process.
“The budget has been a tool that the Kasich administration has used to put in place abortion restrictions often with little or no opportunity for committee hearings,” Mann said. “The medical community is shut out of this process when they write restrictions behind closed doors.”
Ohio Right to Life is seeking to increase state funding in the budget earmarked for fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, which dissuade people from seeking abortion care while spreading misinformation about the procedure.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said in a statement that the state should fund programs that have a “proven track record for effectiveness.” NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio in 2013 published a report that fake clinics in the state have a “pattern of using medically inaccurate information and scare tactics.”
“By giving funding to so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers,’ the Parenting and Pregnancy Program is directing money to centers that coerce and mislead the people turning to them for help,” Copeland said. “When women need urgent, legitimate medical advice, these facilities present inflammatory rhetoric and misleading information. These centers should not be getting state funding.”
There have been half a dozen anti-choice bills filed by Ohio state lawmakers that could be attached to the budget while in conference committee. “All the bills in the hopper, we maintain, are incremental, and we would welcome them into the budget,” said Gonidakis, who is reportedly in close contact with high-ranking Ohio government officials, including Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Rep. Christina Hagan (R-Marlboro Township) introduced HB 258, which would prohibit an abortion if the physician detects a fetal heartbeat, require clinic inspections to ensure reporting requirements compliance, and provide guidance in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
So-called heartbeat bans, which constitute a total ban on the procedure, have been introduced by Republicans several times in Ohio, but lawmakers have rejected the extreme proposal. Kasich vetoed a similar bill after the legislature passed both a 20-week ban and the six-week ban.
SB 145, sponsored by state Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima), would prohibit a so-called dismemberment abortion unless necessary to preserve the life or physical health of the pregnant patient. The bill targets the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure commonly used for abortion care after 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Copeland told the Columbus Dispatch that the bill is an unconstitutional attempt to criminalize a safe, legal procedure. “Let’s call this what it is: part of a broader effort to end access to safe, legal abortion in Ohio,” Copeland said.