Ohio Democrats eyeing a possible constitutional amendment on abortion
Some Democratic women in the Ohio Legislature said a constitutional amendment is needed to prevent Ohio women from losing the right to an abortion and contraception while some Ohioans are considering possibly life-changing decisions.
The leaked draft opinion from the majority on the U.S. Supreme Court that indicated Roe v. Wade will be overturned has been weighing heavy on the mind of Kathryn Poe, 24, from Columbus.
“If I were to get pregnant, it would be seriously life-threatening. There’s a pretty high likelihood that I could die,” Poe said.
Poe has a medical condition that makes pregnancy risky. As Poe plans for her August wedding, she and her soon-to-be spouse have talked about what they'll do if the court does indeed rule in a way that throws control over abortion back to the states.
Right now, abortion is legal in Ohio during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. But there are bills in the state legislature that could make it illegal here if the nation's highest court allows it.
Poe said the language in the draft opinion, which could be changed between now and when it is expected next month, worries her because it could also end up taking away effective birth control methods — because of the way abortion could be defined.
“That draft decision opens up a lot of other decisions about right to privacy and something that is really implicated in someone’s right to privacy is contraception and so it really is scary for a lot of folks," Poe said.
If abortion is outlawed in Ohio, and safe and effective forms of birth control are too, Poe said she and her future spouse have made a decision some might consider drastic — he'll get a vasectomy.
“It is extremely difficult to get sterilized or get a hysterectomy. It can be extremely expensive. Some insurance doesn’t cover it. A lot of doctors won’t do it. And so it was a much easier decision for us,” she said.
Poe's still hoping it won't come to that.
Ohio lawmakers react
Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) said she's been fielding calls from many people who, like Poe, are concerned.
“This is a clarion call and I think women are freaked out about it. Think about losing your constitutional rights. It’s unprecedented,” Lepore-Hagan said.
Lepore-Hagan is one of the four women in the Ohio House and Senate who are sponsoring a proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to abortion and all contraceptive methods.
Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Cincinnati) is another. Miranda is especially disturbed that recent abortion legislation doesn't include exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
“I myself am a survivor [of sexual abuse]," Miranda said. "And I can only think back to when I was being sexually molested and abused by family members, had I been raped by said family member, had I become impregnated by a said family member, if my state didn’t have the option for me to choose whether or not to carry that baby to full term, I would have to have an incest baby of which was not my choice and that I did not want because I was a child."
Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), another sponsor of the legislation, said the language in the draft opinion hints at other cases, that she'd like to think are settled law, might also be on thin ice. She said those include: Loving v. Virginia, the case that ended bans on interracial marriage; Griswold v. Connecticut, the case that allowed people the privacy to choose their own methods of birth control; and Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that legalized same-sex marriage.
"As a member of the LGBTQ community and a feminist and a woman who wants to see all of the people who can become pregnant, all of the people who want on their own to have the right to family planning, whatever that looks like, and be able to have those freedoms, yeah, it definitely concerns me. Certainly, I am hearing from people who are very concerned about the potential loss of liberty and freedom in the state of Ohio and obviously in our country," Antonio said.
There have been attempts by the state legislature to restrict birth control.
In 2019, former Rep. John Becker (R-Hamilton Township) proposed a bill that could have outlawed some popular forms of birth control, like certain pills or IUDs. The language banned private insurers from covering non-therapeutic abortions that include "drugs or devices used to prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum."
A controversial part of that bill said doctors must move an ectopic pregnancy, one where the fertilized egg is trapped in fallopian tubes, into a women’s uterus, something medical experts testified was impossible. The bill ultimately failed. But advocates for legal abortion say, depending on the language the high court uses when it makes its ruling this summer, some forms of effective birth control could be on the chopping block along with abortion itself.
In 2019, when state lawmakers were considering a bill that outlawed abortion at the point a fetal heartbeat is detected, Rabbi Jessica K. Shimberg of the Kehilat Sukkat Shalom in Columbus testified against it in an Ohio House committee. She said passing it would interfere with religious beliefs.
“Jewish values prioritize the life of a woman over that of an unborn fetus and although we treat decisions about a fetus with great care and weight, the woman’s health is paramount,” she said.
Some Christian faith leaders agree government does not have the right to restrict abortion. Rev. Laura Young with the United Methodist Church is part of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and has testified against anti-abortion legislation proposed by Ohio lawmakers.
But many Protestant and Catholic leaders have testified that abortion is against their faith and they want the government to not allow the procedure.
Aaron Baer with the conservative group Center for Christian Virtue agrees with the leaked court opinion and hopes the nation's highest court does indeed allow Roe to fall.
"The supreme court is signaling, the draft brief is signaling, that they are preparing to undo one of the greatest evils in American history by overturning Roe v. Wade," Baer said.
Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) is one of the sponsors of two bills now under consideration in the legislature that would ban abortions if the high court rules states have the power to control abortion. Her bill had its first committee hearing last week.
DeWine on abortion policies
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, believes abortion amounts to taking a human life. In addition to signing the so-called "Heartbeat Bill" into law, DeWine has signed legislation that requires fetal remains be buried or cremated, which has also been put on hold by a court.
“Those of us who believe the evidence is clear that this is a human being, we have to redouble our efforts to reach mothers who are contemplating abortion and we need to give them a viable option," DeWine said.
He's given public money, through the state budget and a recent executive order, to centers that lure pregnant women into their facilities and then try to dissuade them from getting abortions.
Some of those centers are faith-based and provide some support for pregnant mothers but many don't provide fully accurate information on abortion or birth control. In an interview in December for The State of Ohio, DeWine said people like him who are against abortion have a responsibility.
“Ultimately, if you can get an abortion in Pennsylvania and you can’t get an abortion in Ohio, many people are going to go across into Pennsylvania so it’s not going to resolve this issue. This issue is going to continue on no matter what the supreme court does," ,” DeWine said. "And those of us who feel we are pro-life, we are pro-life, and we care about the child, we have to show equally that we care about that mother and we care about her early on in that pregnancy and we want to give her that viable option and we’ve got to redouble those efforts."
Watch: Gov. Mike DeWine discusses possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade
DeWine's Democratic opponent in the Ohio governor's race this fall, former Dayton mayor Nan Whaley, has been a longtime supporter of abortion rights. She has repeatedly said she will work to keep abortion legal in Ohio.
Various polls have consistently shown the majority of Ohioans support abortion rights, at least in some situations.
But majority opinions are not always reflected in legislation passed by the Ohio Legislature where Republicans have a supermajority. The new state legislative district maps approved by the Ohio Redistricting Commission would allow Republicans to maintain a majority and could even retain that supermajority.
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