Soon after Gov. John Kasich signed the state budget bill containing a handful of abortion regulations into law, pro-choice advocates across the country labeled the provisions among the nation’s strictest.
Meanwhile, some anti-abortion Ohioans say the provisions don’t go far enough.
Abortion issues always invite contentious debate, but in this case it is occurring after the regulations became law. That’s because the measures were added to the budget bill at the last minute and not offered up for public testimony — a move that angered Democrats and caused Republican Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield, to buck his party and vote against the budget bill.
A photo of Kasich signing the budget bill while white male legislators watched on has been circulating the Internet and social media posts since Sunday night. The Ohio Democratic Party used the image in a fundraising email with the headline, “These men don’t learn,” arguing Kasich “launched an all-out assault on women’s health care making Ohio among the most anti-woman states in the nation.”
But Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health and states’ abortion laws, said the provisions don’t make Ohio the strictest in the country.
“These restrictions will have an impact and this bill is very different from what we’ve been seeing this year in the sense it addresses both abortion and family planning at the same time,” Nash said. “It’s limiting access to family planning services and it’s making it harder to access abortion services, both of which are deleterious to women.”
None of Ohio’s new regulations end abortions, but the intent is to reduce access to abortion centers and steer women away from abortions and toward alternatives such as adoption.
- Require physicians to try to detect a fetal heart beat, likely through an external ultrasound, and inform the pregnant woman if there is a heartbeat and the probability the woman will carry the fetus to term.
- Prohibit public hospitals including university hospitals from entering into required transfer agreements with abortion clinics, which could force them to close.
- Put Planned Parenthood and other family planning-only clinics at the end of the line for federal family planning dollars, effectively siphoning off money used for contraceptive services, cancer screenings and other forms of preventative health.
- Funnel money toward crisis pregnancy centers – non-medical centers that counsel pregnant women about alternatives to abortion.
- Allocate state funding to rape crisis programs, but only if they do not refer patients to abortive services
Ohio Right to Life, the state’s largest pro-life organization, claimed five wins from Sunday’s budget signing. But backers of last session’s Heartbeat Bill were far less pleased.
Lori Viars of Warren County Right to Life said politicians campaigned on promises to do everything they can to stop abortion and they chose not to.
“We’re concerned Senate republicans will continue to hold back the real heartbeat bill and try to claim they’ve already passed the heartbeat bill,” Viars said. “They haven’t — it’s a toothless, gutless, watered-down version that doesn’t prohibit one abortion.”
Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said the anti-abortion measures were drafted to be constitutional and withstand scrutiny in the courts .
“People that opposed what happened with our pro-life amendments obviously didn’t read them because they help people save lives,” Gonidakis said.
The provisions are not unique to Ohio. Twenty-six other states have enacted targeted restrictions on abortion providers, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and Ohio is now one of seven states that prohibit certain entities from receiving federal family planning dollars. Ohio also joins Texas and Michigan as states with a priority system for distributing funds.
The rape crisis center provision came from a separate bill unanimously approved last month by the Ohio House. Democrats not only voted for the bill, but many attached their names as sponsors.
Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, said she and other Democrats voted for the bill because rape crisis center allies said the funding was so important and they thought the language would change before a Senate vote or insertion in the budget bill.
“We spoke against that gag order,” Antonio said. “We did not think the right thing to do, but we held our noses and voted for that bill because the advocates asked us to.”
Kellie Copeland of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio said she’s heard from many doctors concerned about the changes, which seem to conflict in some cases, and her organization is evaluating litigation on each of the provisions.
“A lot of the stuff they’re saying is misleading and to monkey around with that doctor-patient relationship, to compel doctors to say things that might not be their medical judgment, is a pretty serious concern” Copeland said. “The legislature doesn’t tell brain surgeons what they have to tell their patients.”
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