Anti-abortion-rights activists in Ohio are working on a legislative agenda for 2015 that could continue to chip away at access to abortion.
Already this year, one clinic is in danger of closing because of a provision in last year’s budget and three others face the same outcome. In addition, legislation regulating how abortions are paid for has been introduced.
In light of these moves, Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said the state is “quickly becoming one of the most dangerous states for women’s health.”
But Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said people can expect to see a “rather large and robust” agenda from his group next year. The group has been pushing for incremental changes to Ohio’s abortion laws, a practice that has been more successful since Republican John Kasich was elected governor in 2010. Kasich is against abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.
“I feel pretty confident that all our pro-life incumbents, from Gov. Kasich to our incumbents in the (Ohio) House, will get re-elected,” Gonidakis said.
More than 25,470 abortions were performed in Ohio in 2012, about 700 more than what was recorded in 2011. It was the first increase in the state since at least 2001, according to the Ohio Department of Health. About 37,460 abortions were reported in 2001.
Without giving details, Gonidakis said the group has plans for five or six bills but that they need to be vetted by lawmakers who need to win their elections in the fall.
“You have to take it a step at a time, you have to change culture,” he said, adding that the group won’t waste “time, energy or effort” on pursuing changes he doesn’t think can be enacted now. Still, he said “Ohioans are embracing” the agenda.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll released this year, 34 percent of Ohioans think abortion should be legal in most cases, while 27 percent say it should be illegal in most cases. Fourteen percent say it should be illegal in all cases.
Opinion has shifted only slightly since January 2012, when 33 percent said it should be legal in most cases, 28 percent said it should be illegal in most cases and 16 percent said it should be illegal in all cases.
The strategy of small changes is something being followed in other states.
Michigan passed a bill this year banning abortion coverage in the private insurance marketplace without a rider that must be purchased in advance. The idea was labeled “rape insurance” by Democrats.
Last summer, Texas passed a law that has contributed to the closure of nearly two-thirds of the state’s abortion clinics. The law requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. A similar law, modeled after that in Texas, was just signed in Louisiana.
And Florida passed a bill this month that would make abortion illegal in cases in which a doctor determines the fetus could survive outside the womb.
Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said the organization works with its local affiliates to figure out what kind of legislation can be passed in each state.
“Even though we can’t stop abortion, we are looking for ways to reduce their numbers,” Tobias said.
Tobias said Ohio has been successful in passing anti-abortion laws.
“I think Ohio is one of the stronger states for legislation, but I can tell you that Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin can make that same claim,” she said. Last year, Kasich signed off on a provision in the two-year state budget that forbids public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with abortion clinics. The clinics need the agreement to keep their licenses under Ohio law.
Toledo’s last abortion clinic came one step closer to closing its doors for good earlier this month because of a lack of a transfer agreement. The closure of the city’s last clinic, in operation since 1983, would put the number of facilities statewide at 10.
Abortion-rights activist Copeland said she expects to see three other clinics in litigation soon as a result of the transfer-agreement rule. She said anti-abortion groups across the country have been using the legislative process to limit access to abortions.
And while clinics are fighting the restrictions that have been put in place during the past few years, Copeland said, not every clinic is able to afford to.
She said NARAL aims to inform activists and the public about what is going on and how they would be affected. State legislative changes don’t receive as much attention from the public as a “flashy” Supreme Court case, she said.
When Ohio lawmakers return to session in the fall, they will consider a bill introduced by Rep. John Becker, R-Union Township, that would prohibit insurance companies from covering abortion, including in cases of rape, incest and life of the mother. The only exception would be for ectopic, or tubal, pregnancies.
The bill also would ban insurance coverage for public employees as well as those on Medicaid for birth control that prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg, such as intrauterine devices. The bill was heavily criticized by Democrats during the first hearing this month.
By Kristen Mitchell - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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