CREDIT: Karen Kasler
In June, Ohio’s GOP-led legislature tacked on multiple anti-abortion amendments to the state’s two-year budget at the last minute. The surprise addition to the budget bill ensured that the abortion restrictions could be pushed through very quickly. There wasn’t time for any type of public hearing to allow voters to comment on them — until now.
This week, a handful of House Democrats in the state held their own legislative hearing to give voters an opportunity to express their concerns about the stringent anti-abortion provisions. The event wasn’t on the official legislative calendar, but the Democrats noted that it represented the hearing that should have been held before the final vote on the budget back in June.
As the Columbus Dispatch reports, the Ohio Democrats who participated in the hearing called their state’s new abortion restrictions “some of the most aggressive on women’s health care in the nation” and pointed out they weren’t “properly vetted” during the budget debate.
The recently approved budget includes at least five attacks on reproductive rights. It defunds Planned Parenthood clinics, reallocates state funding to right-wing “crisis pregnancy centers,” imposes harsh restrictions on abortion clinics, strips funds from rape crisis centers that refer their clients to abortion clinics, and requires women to listen to the fetal heartbeat before being allowed to have an abortion. After it passed, the anti-choice groups in Ohio celebrated their state’s “historic” move to limit abortion access. And sure enough, in July, abortion clinics began being forced to close their doors because they’re unable to comply with the unnecessary new regulations.
Reproductive rights advocates, women’s health experts, and law professors testified against the new restrictions. One practicing gynecologist pointed out that enacting harsh abortion laws often ends up preventing doctors from being able to do their jobs because they’re too worried about breaking the law.
“The idea that you make a physician criminally liable is absolutely huge,” Dr. Marc Parnes told the panel. “The practice of medicine is difficult enough. Now we have additional hoops to jump through and worry about, because if we do them incorrectly we are jailed or hit with a large fine.”
The Democrats wanted to broadcast the hearing on local television — but they claimed they were blocked from doing so by the House GOP leadership. House Minority Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard (D) said that simply provides more proof that “House Republicans refuse to focus on critical issues pertaining to Ohio’s women.” Ohio Republicans disputed that report, saying that they had nothing to do with that decision and Ohio Government Telecommunications made the call.
Ohio isn’t the only state that has recently been criticized for fast-tracking last-minute abortion restrictions without allowing for enough time for debate. In June, Texas lawmakers convened a special session specifically to pursue an anti-abortion agenda, and rushed through a controversial bill in the middle of the night amid massive protests. In July, Wisconsin lawmakers pushed through new abortion clinic restrictions in just nine days without any Democratic support. And also in July, North Carolina Republicans quietly attached abortion restrictions to several totally unrelated pieces of legislation without giving their Democratic colleagues any advance notice at all. All of those states were ultimately successful in enacting those anti-choice laws.