COLUMBUS — As Ohio lawmakers near finalization of the next two-year budget, activists on both sides of the controversial subject are watching to see if the spending and policy bill will again be used as a vehicle to restrict abortion rights.
Budgets have been a frequent tool in recent years to require clinics to enter into emergency-transfer agreements with local hospitals and then limit the number of hospitals that can enter such agreements.
Women dressed in character from the dystopian novel "The Handmaid's Tale" stage a protest in the Ohio Statehouse Rotunda June 13 in Columbus. The group was protesting against a bill criminalizing the state's most common abortion procedure.
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They have required doctors to test for fetal heartbeats and then offer to let patients see that heartbeat, and to restrict Planned Parenthood’s access to public funding.
Several of these provisions have been challenged in court precisely because they were included in budget bills that are typically thousands of pages in length.
Such provisions have traditionally been added late in the process, often in the joint conference committee that hammers out a compromise between the differing versions passed by the House and Senate.
The House has already acted, and the Senate plans to vote on its version on Wednesday. A final budget must reach Gov. John Kasich’s desk by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
“I always look at various avenues to include pro-life legislation, including the budget,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. “That being said, I do not anticipate at this time pro-life language being added to the budget. But I am hopeful.”
He said the organization is working to keep $1 million already included so far in the budget for pregnancy crisis centers. Opponents argue these exist to counsel women against abortion and are funded with federal welfare dollars not intended for such purposes.
As Ohio's legislators finalize their budget proposals to send to Gov. John Kasich, advocates on both sides of the abortion issue wonder what it means for them.
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Some provisions that slipped into past budgets are still under court challenge as potential violations of the Ohio Constitution’s so-called “single-subject rule.” That rule generally says lawmakers should not cram too many unrelated issues into one bill.
“The budget has been a tool that the [Gov. John} Kasich administration has used to put in place abortion restrictions often with little or no opportunity for committee hearings,” said Gabriel Mann, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. “The medical community is shut out of this process when they write restrictions behind closed doors.”
Capital Care Network in Toledo is fighting a closure order from the state Department of Health in the Ohio Supreme Court.
The state rejected its emergency transfer agreement with the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor about 50 miles away.
“The fight over the transfer agreements began in Toledo, and it’s been very clear, especially in northwest Ohio, that the transfer agreements are completely and medically unnecessary,” Mr. Mann said.
“They are bureaucratic gimmicks to block women from accessing safe and legal care.”
A series of proposed abortion restrictions, generally backed by Republicans, have been introduced and reintroduced this session.
One would criminalize the common abortion procedure of dilation and extraction.
The first Senate hearing last week was the subject of a silent protest by women clad in red robes similar to those worn in the novel and TV series The Handmaid’s Tale depicting a future American totalitarian society in which women are subjugated and forced to bear children.
Others would prohibit an abortion if the procedure is being sought because the fetus has Down Syndrome, stiffen penalties for the sale of fetal tissue, and impose new restrictions on the disposal of fetal remains.
“All the bills in the hopper, we maintain, are incremental, and we would welcome them into the budget,” Mr. Gonidakis said. “We fully expect every bill to go through, whether by July 1, , or Dec. 31, 2018. It’s a two-year cycle. We are not term-limited at Ohio Right to Life. We can be patient.”
The controversial so-called “Heartbeat Bill,” which is not supported by Ohio Right to Life, has been reintroduced this session after being vetoed last session by Mr. Kasich.
It would all but prohibit an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
Mr. Kasich instead signed a Right to Life-backed law that, with some exceptions, prohibits an abortion after 20 weeks of gestation.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.
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