Protesters of a bill to promote a total abortion ban with the overturning of Roe v. Wade demonstrate outside the Ohio Statehouse in September. Photo by Susan Tebben
A bill hinging on the downfall of federal abortion rights came into a Senate committee Wednesday with the support of its two Republican sponsors.
Senate Bill 123 is a “trigger” bill that would allow the state to ban abortion with a change in the U.S. Constitution or the overturning of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.
The bill criminalizes a physician’s role in an abortion in the state, threatening prison time and the revocation of medical licenses for any doctor participating or promoting abortion. Bill cosponsor state Sen. Sandra O’Brien, R-Ashtabula, said the work against abortions doesn’t stop with just the challenges to Roe v. Wade.
“Overturning Roe v. Wade does not make abortion illegal,” O’Brien told the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday. “It simply changes the venue of this question from nine unelected Supreme Court justices to the people to enact abortion policy through their elected state legislators.”
Senate Health Committee member Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Avondale, pushed back on the bill, arguing that calling Ohio a “pro-life state” as O’Brien did, was not supported by data.
“Survey after survey has concluded the majority of Ohioans believe abortions should be legal and that politicians should not be making personal decisions for them about their pregnancies,” Thomas said.
The Pew Research Center has said Ohio’s opinion on abortion leans away from anti-abortion legislation, saying about 48% of Ohioans approve of the legality of abortion in most or all circumstances, while 47% disapprove.
Thomas also asked if the bill — which has a provision to allow abortion in the case of life-threatening risk to the pregnant person — would protect the person asking for an abortion in the case of rape or incest.
“No it does not, because she could always take contraception,” O’Brien said.
Fellow cosponsor state Sen. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, said the sponsors believe the bill “is in fact quite constitutional,” and brings debate on a hot-button issue to a halt.
“We have a decision to make, are we going to join the states that say we’re going to keep the child comfortable until we decide what to do with them, or are we going to stand for life,” Roegner said. “Today, Ohio is saying we shall stand for life.”
The bill has the support of anti-abortion lobby group Ohio Right to Life, and a spokesperson said the bill would “allow Ohio to take the ultimate step to protect the most vulnerable.”
Introduction of the bill comes the day after dozens of abortion rights advocates marched into the Statehouse, headed for the Senate chambers to demonstrate before state senators as their Tuesday session ended.
Only a few were allowed in, but the other protesters stood outside the chambers chanting as Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and others exited the chambers.
Jasmine Henderson, director of policy and social impact for the Ohio Women’s Alliance spoke during the protest, and said the total abortion ban would have implication predominantly for LGBTQ+ Ohioans and people of color.
“If you’re queer, if you have a uterus, if you are Black, if you’re indigenous, if you’re AAPI, if you’re Latinx, we’re the ones who don’t have a choice about what happens to us and our bodies,” Henderson said.
With GOP sponsorship and previous good fortunate for anti-abortion bills under the Republican supermajority, the bill has a chance to make it through the committee and full-General Assembly consideration.
Those that came to the protests said attacks on abortion were not surprising or new to them, and the imminent decision on Roe v. Wade could be drawing more people to action.
“Ohioans are used to having their rights stomped on unfortunately,” said Aileen Day, communications director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio. “We’re used to fighting for access, but we’re increasingly leaning towards a world that might exist post-Roe. That’s why we’re out here.”
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