Last week, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) approved a two-year state budget that includes several serious attacks on reproductive rights. The new reproductive-related provisions — which will defund Planned Parenthood clinics, reallocate state funding to right-wing “crisis pregnancy centers,” force many abortion clinics to close, strip funds from rape crisis centers that refer their clients to abortion clinics, and require women to listen to the fetal heartbeat before being allowed to have an abortion — represent some of the most stringent restrictions in the nation.
Now, anti-choice activists in the state are celebrating the passage of the budget, noting that the sheer number of abortion restrictions tacked onto it was “historic.”
“When you take everything in total, it’s absolutely historic,” Mike Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, said in reference to the new budget. “The governor had found a way to get additional money to poor pregnant women and to get more medically accurate information to women — the heartbeat, at her discretion. These are common-sense provisions that will withstand court scrutiny. None is an overreach.”
Women’s health experts, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, disagree. The national OB-GYN group has come out in opposition to restrictions on abortion that impose a political agenda between a woman and her doctor. It has also specifically criticized medically unnecessary regulations on abortion providers that force clinics to close their doors.
That doesn’t matter to Ohio Right to Life, which has successfully forced its agenda through the state legislature over the past several years. Last session, it convinced lawmakers to approve a late-term abortion ban. But the new budget represents some of the biggest victories yet. “We had not had this much success in a budget to this date,” Gonidakas pointed out.
The anti-choice group commemorated the budget’s passage at a press event last week. An abortion clinic in Toledo has already been forced to close, foreshadowing what lies in store for many other clinics in Ohio under the new restrictions — and Greater Toledo Right to Life chose to host their press conference at the site of that shuttered clinic. The group’s executive director called it “a day of celebration and thanksgiving to God for answered prayer.”
Now that the budget has become law, women’s health advocates are trying to do what they can to mitigate the damage before the new restrictions take effect, hoping to help health clinics stay open as long as possible. But they’re specifically worried about the power that Ohio Right to Life wields over both the state legislature and the state’s health department.
“Mike Gonidakis and Ohio Right to Life have an enormous amount of access and power at the Ohio Department of Health both because of Mr. Gonidakis’s place on the Ohio State Medical Board, but also because of their very cozy relationship with Governor Kasich,” NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio’s Executive Director, Kellie Copeland, said in a recent interview with RH Reality Check. “This relationship and this access has already had a chilling effect on medical providers across the state. People are worried that there is going to be a witch hunt, that they will use their power in a way that wasn’t intended, that they will find a minor infraction that doesn’t impact health care and that they will use that as an excuse to close women’s health centers.”