Reproductive rights battles will continue after small election changes to judiciary, legislature

Protesters at the Supreme Court in March 2020, when the justices were hearing arguments in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo. Robin Bravender/States Newsroom.

While anti-abortion groups claim victory in Ohio with little change to the majority conservative Ohio legislature, abortion-rights groups are ready for continued fights in the Statehouse and in the courts.

The Ohio Supreme Court saw one seat flipped, with Judge Jennifer Brunner overtaking incumbent justice Judith French in unofficial results Tuesday. It doesn’t flip the balance of the Supreme Court from its conservative majority, but it is treated as progress by abortion-rights groups.

“Having her on Ohio’s highest court will help us protect access to reproductive and sexual health as well as limit partisan gerrymandering when redistricting begins,” said Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, in a statement to the Capital Journal.

Also seen as a win for reproductive rights advocates is the election of Jennifer Branch as a judge for the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas.

“Few people in Ohio have done as much to actively defend our reproductive rights as Jennifer Branch has,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio executive director Kellie Copeland in a statement. “Her work has been vitally important in the effort to preserve abortion access in our state.”

With few changes in the Ohio legislature, anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis cited the reelection of Supreme Court justice Sharon Kennedy and wins for 77% of candidates endorsed or preferred by the group’s political action committee, along with President Donald Trump’s Ohio support as proof that their message is reaching Ohioans.

“President Trump’s victory in Ohio demonstrates that when it comes to the life issue, Ohioans stand with leaders like the president who value all human life,” Gonidakis wrote in a statement.

Abortion-rights advocates still plan to keep up the work of fighting efforts to limit abortion access in the state, but the strategy they are utilizing involves as much public outreach as it does legislative testimony.

“We’re exhausting every organizing and every advocacy effort to move the needle, but we are really working to build up our people power,” said Sarah Inskeep, policy and movement building director for the Ohio chapter of Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity (URGE).

Inskeep said URGE is continuing their work with the youth and raising awareness in other ways than just making pleas before legislative committees.

“We know that health care is not just happening in the medical industrial complex, so how do people get it in other ways, that’s the awareness we want to bring,” Inskeep said.

But the Statehouse is still a high priority on both sides of the abortion fight. URGE and other groups want to see virtual testimony allowed for committee meetings as the issues important to their groups come up in committees.

With COVID-19 cases breaking multiple records, and with members of the legislature and their staff not immune to the spread, Inskeep said constituents’ ability to speak up on issues that are important to them is being impacted.

“We’re concerned about our ability to safely participate in the democratic process,” Inskeep said.

Ohio House committees are set to begin next week, with a Senate session also scheduled for next week.

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