More abortion restrictions added to budget in Ohio

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Democratic Texas Sen. Wendy Davis made national news when she recently filibustered on that state's Senate floor for 11 hours until the clock ran out on passage of a sweeping anti-abortion bill.

Hours later, Democratic women stood on the floors of the Ohio House and Senate to make many of the same arguments that Ms. Davis made, but a budget bill similar to what was blocked in Texas made it to Ohio Gov. John Kasich's desk and was signed into the law.

"This isn't about one bill or about one state," one of those Ohio women, state Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, said. "It is about the unrelenting obsession with regulating a woman's womb. Over 700 bills in 42 states in just the last few months have been introduced to regulate a woman's constitutionally guaranteed right to choose."

Texas "lit a fuse," she said.

Several provisions that critics argue restrict access to abortion in Ohio made it into the state budget.

With Republicans controlling both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly, abortion-rights advocates placed their last-ditch hopes on a Kasich veto. He'd taken on members of this own party before by promoting expansion of Medicaid eligibility under President Barack Obama's new health care law and by refusing to endorse efforts to make Ohio a right-to-work state.

But Mr. Kasich sent signals that lightning probably wasn't going to strike a third time.

"Just keep in mind that I'm pro-life," he said. He exercised his line-item veto pen 22 times last week but left all of the abortion provisions intact.

They include:

• A prohibition against public hospitals or the physicians affiliated with them from entering into written agreements with ambulatory surgical centers that perform abortions to accept their patients in case of emergency. The clinics must have such agreements in place as a condition of their licenses.

• A requirement that doctors test for a fetal heartbeat, then inform the patient seeking an abortion in writing of the presence of that heartbeat, and then provide statistical likelihood that the fetus could be carried to term. The doctor's failure to do so would be a first-degree misdemeanor, carrying up to six months in jail, for the first violation and a fourth-degree felony, carrying up to 18 months in jail, for subsequent violations.

• A new priority list when it comes to distributing Ohio's share of federal planning funds that puts Planned Parenthood last in line behind state and local agencies, nonpublic federally qualified health centers and community action agencies and nonpublic entities that also provide comprehensive primary and preventive health care.

• A threat to the public funding for rape crisis centers that discuss abortion as an option in their counseling of clients. The provision, which also includes an additional funding stream for the centers, also had been previously supported by House Democrats when it was included in a broader bill last month.

Ohio Right to Life has proven successful in getting much of its agenda through the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

The organization has had other high-profile legislative successes over the last few years. They included passage of a law last session that prohibits a late-term abortion once a doctor determines an unborn child would be viable outside the womb. It contains an exception if the mother's health or life is in danger.

But Mike Gonidakis, the organization's president, does consider this budget to be historic.

"Elections have consequences," Mr. Gonidakis said. "We had not had this much success in a budget to this date."

"[Ohio Right to Life has] legislators, mostly males, who seem to think this looks like good health care," said Stephanie Kight, president of Planned Parenthood of Ohio. "I don't know their motives, but they're interested in eliminating abortion access completely. Districts have been gerrymandered so that elected officials don't represent Ohioans and what's in the best interests of Ohio."

Ms. Kight said legal challenges to the new provisions are likely.

"That's certainly happening," she said. "There is also a heck of a lot of talking going on among women so that they'll all know what happened to them [June 30] so that they can make a change in a year and a half."

That's when Mr. Kasich, all statewide executive officeholders, and most state lawmakers will be on the ballot.

"We will work night and day to protect officeholders who courageously stand up on pro-life issues," Mr. Gonidakis said. "We want this issue to be front and center ... Ohio is a pro-life state. We'll take it to the ballot. If [Ohio Democratic Party chairman] Chris Redfern wants to make it front and center, let's do it."


Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Jim Provance is a reporter for The Blade.


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