Restricting women’s freedom


Ohio is in the forefront of emerging public policy on an important issue, but it’s not a distinction Ohioans should cherish. Our state has become a battleground for a national political strategy that aims to restrict women’s reproductive rights — and it’s working all too well.

This year, Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled General Assembly rammed into the new state budget — which should not be a vehicle for making social policy — several harsh new measures to limit the availability of abortion. One of these measures prohibits hospitals that get public funding from signing transfer agreements with abortion clinics to provide emergency care, even though hospitals are required by law to treat emergency patients. A clinic in Toledo closed this summer; the city’s last remaining clinic also could shut down because the University of Toledo Medical Center would not renew its agreement.

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State law now requires doctors to test for fetal heartbeats among all patients who seek abortions, to tell them the likelihood that their pregnancy would reach full term, and to offer to let them watch an ultrasound of the fetus. These are all clear efforts to induce guilt and shame, and to intimidate women into forgoing a legal procedure to end pregnancy.

The new budget also bars rape-crisis programs that get public money from discussing abortion as an option. It subsidizes “crisis pregnancy” centers that often are run by anti-abortion groups. It penalizes Planned Parenthood because of its ostensible abortion advocacy, jeopardizing funding for family-planning programs that can reduce abortions.

The intent of such onerous measures is to erode incrementally the reproductive rights established in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision and subsequent rulings. Ohio isn’t alone: National anti-abortion lobbies are pursuing similar legislative strategies in other states.

That’s why Ohio’s mainstream anti-abortion movement opposes such blatantly unconstitutional measures as the proposed “heartbeat bill,” which would prohibit abortion of a fetus with a detectable heartbeat — which can occur even before a women knows she is pregnant. Courts in states such as North Dakota and Arkansas have rejected similarly radical anti-abortion laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed suit last week against Mr. Kasich and other state officials to block the new abortion restrictions. ACLU officials argue plausibly that the inclusion of these measures in the unrelated budget bill violates the state constitution.

Anti-abortion groups in Ohio are right to call for the state to take a greater role in encouraging adoptions. If state tax policies and rules create obstacles to adoption, they should be dismantled. But that does not require further assaults on women’s rights.

Far from protecting women, as anti-abortion advocates assert, such regressive measures can threaten women’s health and are gratuitously cruel. Along with necessary judicial review, Ohio voters should hold to account the elected officials responsible for these measures.