This summer, Ohio lawmakers forced through several stringent abortion restrictions by attaching them to a two-year budget. Abortion opponents in the state essentially hijacked the budget process to launch an unprecedented attack on reproductive rights — and after the legislation was approved, anti-choice groups in the state celebrated their biggest victory in years.
But they might not end up getting away with it. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Ohio chapter is suing the state, claiming that the new budget violates an Ohio law that requires legislation to adhere to a single subject.
In addition to appropriating the state’s budget over the next two years, the new law also includes at least five provisions related to reproductive rights. It defunds Planned Parenthood clinics, creates a new program to funnel 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.
“To put it simply, none of these amendments have any place in the state budget bill,” Susan Scheutzow, a cooperating attorney for the ACLU, said in a statement. “This massive bill is not intended to deal with new policy. The single subject of the budget should be the appropriation of funds for existing government programs or obligations.”
The ACLU contends that the provision related to crisis pregnancy centers is particularly problematic because it creates a new state program. Under Ohio’s constitution, only stand-alone legislation can do that, not an amendment to an unrelated bill.
“This litigation is as much about good government as it is about reproductive justice,” ACLU of Ohio’s executive director, Christine Link, pointed out in a statement. “You don’t have to be pro-choice to understand that there are rules, and those rules must be followed.”
The anti-abortion provisions in Ohio’s new budget have drawn increasing attention recently. In July, abortion clinics began closing their doors because they were unable to comply with the new restrictions enacted within the legislation. In the middle of September, Democratic lawmakers held a symbolic hearing on the law, pointing out that the legislation was rushed through too quickly to allow Ohio residents to testify against it. And just last month, hundreds of pro-choice activists rallied at the state capitol, proclaiming they won’t allow the new budget to roll back their reproductive rights.
Ohio isn’t the only state that has incited controversy by using an unusual legislative process to ensure anti-choice legislation’s passage. In Michigan, right-wing activists are currently attempting to enact new abortion restrictions without the governor’s approval. The opposite situation is unfolding in Georgia, where the governor is trying to force through an anti-abortion bill that lawmakers didn’t approve. This past summer, Texas lawmakers sparked massive protests after using a special legislative session to enact abortion restrictions that failed to advance during the regular session — a process that involved rushing the bill through in the middle of the night and cutting off public testimony.