Once again, abortion was one of the most hotly contested issues at the Statehouse this past year. And as explained in our continuing series “2015 in Review,” there are signs the issue will be back at the top of the legislative agenda in 2016.
Throughout 2015, there were rallies for and against legislative proposals meant to make it more difficult for Ohio women to get abortions. Democratic Representative Greta Johnson told supporters at one of those events that she’s fed up.
“We are not damsels in distress tied to railroad tracks. We are the train and will are carrying the message that we will not tolerate further infringement of our constitutionally protected right to abortion care,” Johnson said.
But majority Republicans in the Ohio legislature stayed on track and passed several anti-abortion measures, though none were stand-alone bills, they were slipped into the two year budget bill. One requirement was that abortion clinics have transfer agreements with hospitals no more than 30 miles away. And another directed a million federal dollars for family planning for low-income Ohioans to crisis pregnancy and family health centers and away from Planned Parenthood.
Later in the year, there was a larger bill that would have stripped all taxpayer dollars going from the state to Planned Parenthood. Katie Franklin with Ohio Right to Life said the reason her organization wants Planned Parenthood defunded boils down to one thing, the group’s three Ohio abortion clinics.
“Taxpayer dollars are still going to an organization that makes up a third of Ohio’s abortion industry. They are still going into that brand. They are still being channeled into an organization whose agenda is abortion on demand without apology,” said Franklin.
The Ohio House and the Ohio Senate both had bills that would have defunded Planned Parenthood. And Republican Senator Bill Coley said it was a top priority for lawmakers.
“This is important legislation and we want to move it as quickly as possible. I think there is a broad consensus of support for the bill,” said Coley.
Both chambers passed their own separate bills, but did not come together to pass a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood. But they’ve left the door open to resurrecting it in 2016.
And the state has gone after the organization in another way. Back in the summer, when viral videos emerged that raised questions about whether Planned Parenthood was selling fetal body parts, Attorney General Mike DeWine launched an investigation into the organization's three Ohio abortion clinics. In mid-December, DeWine announced his office didn’t find evidence of that. But he did say Planned Parenthood violated an administrative rule from the 1970’s that requires abortion clinics to dispose of fetal remains in a humane way.
DeWine said the vendors hired by Planned Parenthood’s clinics have been dumping aborted fetuses in landfills. Republican Representative Kyle Koehler then announced a bill to require burial or cremation of fetal remains from abortions performed in abortion clinics.
“Whether they are selling body parts or simply tossing them into landfills. It doesn’t matter to me anymore. As a legislator, I can no longer stand by and trust what Planned Parenthood does with the bodies of aborted babies,” said Koehler.
It’s that kind of language that is at the heart of another abortion bill, one sponsored by supporters of abortion rights. Democratic Representative Stephanie Howse says her legislation is aimed at toning down inflammatory rhetoric and actions associated with abortion.
“Sending thoughts and prayers to victims of violence at reproductive health providers is simply not enough. Anti-choice organizations have created a really hostile environment where people with extreme ideologies become motivated to do harm,” said Howse.
Her legislation would set 15 foot barriers between protestors and doors of clinics. And it calls on lawmakers and those who oppose abortion to quit using inflammatory language when talking about abortion.
In addition to the bill that would defund Planned Parenthood, some other controversial bills that didn’t pass this year are likely to be debated again in 2016. One is a bill to ban abortions at the point when a fetus can feel pain and sponsors say that’s thought to be by 20 weeks gestation. Another would prohibit abortion after a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis. And then there’s the heartbeat bill, a perennial piece of legislation that would ban abortion at the point a fetal heartbeat can be detected.