Abortion is always a contentious issue at the Statehouse. This year was no exception, as abortion ban bills took front and center stage amid the backdrop of the controversial election season.
Early in 2016, state lawmakers cut $1.2 million worth of federal funds from Planned Parenthood. That legislation, which was pushed by Ohio Right to Life, took money that was earmarked for birth control, cancer screenings and other preventative services away from Planned Parenthood and gave it to community health clinics instead. Stephanie Krider, who was with Ohio Right to Life back then, said taxpayer dollars should not go to Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions.
“You know in a perfect world, it shouldn’t be supporting any abortions at all but it is keeping their lights on. It is paying their staff. It’s the same staff doing HIV testing that is doing pre-abortion appointments so there’s no way to determine that no funds are going to abortions.”
Planned Parenthood’s Stephanie Kight said her organization did not use the money for abortion – that would violate federal law. And she said those dollars had been awarded to Planned Parenthood as part of a competitive process because it does the best job of providing preventative care services to low income women.
“So will Planned Parenthood still be here next week? Of course we will. We will find a way. We will do good work. But for the woman who has turned to us for a breast cancer screening or a cervical cancer screening or an HIV test, where is she going to turn now? The state of Ohio has no answer to that.”
During the summer, as campaigns heated up, abortion rights advocates and abortion opponents worked hard to get their respective candidates elected. Planned Parenthood endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton while Ohio Right to Life endorsed Republican Donald Trump. After Trump’s victory in November, the Republican dominated legislature came back into lame duck session, and the Senate added the so-called “Heartbeat Bill”, which had passed the House, into a child abuse bill. The “Heartbeat Bill” would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, and would be the strictest abortion ban in the country. Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina), who had opposed that bill earlier in the year because of questions about its constitutionality, said the election had changed things: “New president, new Supreme Court justice appointees changed the dynamic and there was consensus in our caucus to move forward.”
Gov. John Kasich vetoed the “heartbeat bill”, but signed into law a ban on abortion after twenty weeks of pregnancy. Ohio Right to Life had endorsed the 20-week ban, saying more than a dozen states had similar bans, and worried the courts could wipe out abortion laws in the process of ruling against the “Heartbeat Bill”. Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonadakis praised Kasich for his decisions on the abortion bills. “Simply put, he’s the most pro-life governor in our state’s history. He’s the most pro-life governor in our nation,” Gonadakis said. At the end of the year, opponents of the 20-week abortion ban say they are considering a lawsuit against it.
But some abortion bills that didn’t make it through this year. One dealt with a state mandated process for disposing of fetal remains. Another was a bill to ban abortions if testing for Down Syndrome was conducted. And still another was the so-called “personhood bill” that would outlaw abortion at the point an egg is fertilized. As for the state’s abortion clinics, none closed this year – nine clinics are open in Ohio, down from 16 that were operating when Gov. Kasich took office.