Ohio Dems seek to put abortion protection in state constitution

Credit: Jim Gaines

Credit: Jim Gaines

Democrats announced Tuesday they will seek a state constitutional amendment to permanently legalize abortion in Ohio, in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that might overturn that right on a national level.

Members of the Ohio General Assembly held a news conference in the Statehouse to say they will soon file a joint resolution, simultaneously in the state House and Senate.

Amendments to the Ohio Constitution that are proposed by the legislature must get three-fifths support in both houses to be placed on the ballot for voters’ approval.

That’s 59 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate. Currently Democrats hold only 35 House seats and eight Senate seats.

“We’re not naïve enough to believe that the Republican-controlled legislature will pass this proposal,” said state Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland. But she and Senate Assistant Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, said the legislative move would be “step one” in introducing the amendment for a future statewide referendum.

“And that would take more time,” Antonio said.

Democrats said they believe the majority of Ohioans would support protecting abortion rights.

House Minority Whip Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park, introduced herself as a survivor of sexual assault.

“I know firsthand what it is like to have control over your body ripped away from you,” she said. That is “unequivocally not an ‘opportunity’ for women,” Miranda said, a direct jab at state Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland. Schmidt is the sponsor of House Bill 598, a “trigger ban” that would automatically make it a felony for doctors to perform medical or surgical abortions in Ohio if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

During the bill’s first hearing on April 27, Schmidt described pregnancy resulting from rape as an “opportunity” for the rape victim to “help that life be a productive human being.”

House Bill 598 is up for a second hearing Thursday. Miranda noted that it does not currently include exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health.

“We aren’t truly free unless we can control our own bodies, lives and futures for ourselves and our children,” Miranda said.

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said “It appears that Democrat politicians want to insert abortion on demand into Ohio’s constitution.”

“Their radical idea allows abortions through the ninth month of pregnancy. No Ohioan, other than these Democrat politicians, support aborting a baby who is nine months old in her mother’s womb,” Gonidakis said. “This is barbaric and we are extremely confident that the voters of Ohio, both pro-life and pro-choice, will defeat this inhumane proposal. At best this is a gimmick as these Democrats know full well that the likelihood of the legislature approving such nonsense is zero. Shame on these politicians for suggesting such a horrific idea.”

According to the most recent abortion statistics published by the Ohio Department of Health, in 2020 no abortions were performed in Ohio after the sixth month of pregnancy. More than 97% of abortions took place within the first four months of gestation.

The Republican legislative majority has passed several bills in the last year further restricting abortion, and seeks to pass more, including Schmidt’s.

Antonio said Democrats’ proposed resolution will include protection for contraception, prenatal and abortion care, and more. Criminalizing abortion won’t prevent it, but will only make it unsafe, Antonio said.

“We run the risk of driving medical professionals out of this state by putting them at risk for simply doing their jobs,” she said.

State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, said banning abortion has been Ohio Republicans’ top priority for years.

“They want to criminalize healthcare, punish women, and throw doctors in jail,” she said. Lepore-Hagan urged people to lobby their legislators and other state officials in support of legal abortion.

Williams said outlawing abortion would particularly affect women of color, who already often lack access to family planning and good prenatal care. According to the Ohio Department of Health, African American women are twice as likely as white women to die from pregnancy-related conditions, she said.

Many African American women don’t approve of abortion, but also don’t want the government to make that decision, Williams said.

The Democratic announcement is in reaction to a leaked draft majority opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court, indicating the conservative majority may soon overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The court’s final ruling is expected in June.

Similar attempts are underway in other states. And on May 11, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, called for a vote on federal legislation to ensure abortion remains legal. It failed 49-51; the move was largely symbolic because it would’ve taken 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

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