Despite reports of harm, DeWine refuses comment on abortion ban law

By: - October 19, 2022 5:00 am

COLUMBUS, OH — AUGUST 26: Governor Mike DeWine talks with the press at a gubernatorial forum hosted by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission in partnership with the Ohio Association of Regional Councils, August 26, 2022, at the Hilton Columbus Downtown, in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal / Republish photo only with original story.)

With Gov. Mike DeWine’s blessing, Ohio is in court, fighting to reimpose strict abortion regulations under a law he signed in 2019. But he’s refusing to publicly comment on the numerous stories of suffering it caused during the 11 weeks it was enforced.

The law DeWine signed, Senate Bill 23, bans abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected. That’s about five or six weeks into a pregnancy — a point so early that many women and girls don’t yet know they’re pregnant.

The law makes no exceptions for rape and incest. It includes some protections for the life and health of the mother, but doctors — who can be charged with felonies under the law — say they’re too vague to be workable.

SB 23 was unenforceable until June 24 because it violated the 1973 U.S.  Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade. But then the U.S. Supreme Court conservative majority handed down its decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, overturning Roe and its protections of the right to an abortion.

Almost immediately, SB 23 went into effect and just a week later, the Indianapolis Star reported that the law had forced a 10-year-old rape victim from Columbus to travel there for an abortion. The incident made for international news, but DeWine refused to comment on it, other than to say child rape is “gut wrenching.”

After that, more horror stories came in the form of sworn affidavits filed by doctors and other workers in Ohio abortion clinics. 

They included two more minors who had been impregnated by rapists and cancer patients who couldn’t get abortions needed for treatment because their doctors were afraid of being charged with crimes and losing their medical licenses. 

Other women were diagnosed with fetal abnormalities so severe that their pregnancies couldn’t be successful. Under SB 23 they had to leave Ohio for abortions if they didn’t want to carry those fetuses for months.

On Sept. 14, enforcement of SB 23 was paused when a Cincinnati judge granted a temporary restraining order against it and then later issued a preliminary injunction. The case is expected to make its way to the Ohio Supreme Court, on which DeWine’s son, Pat, sits as a justice.

In the face of news of medical and emotional problems caused by SB 23, Gov. DeWine has been steadfastly silent. 

“Our office has no new comments on the issue or the ongoing litigation at this time,” Press Secretary Dan Tierney said in an email Monday. He said something similar 10 days earlier.

Also, some of the governor’s recent conduct might be seen partly as an attempt to avoid questions about the impact the abortion law he signed is having on some women and girls. 

He has refused to debate his Democratic challenger in the Nov. 8 election, Nan Whaley. Also in recent weeks, DeWine has made few appearances in central Ohio, where he’d be likely to face the Capitol press corps.

At the same time, he may be quietly signaling his support for even more sweeping abortion measures.

After the Dobbs decision, state Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Cincinnati, introduced a bill that would ban abortions at any point in a pregnancy with only narrow exceptions to protect the life and health of the mother. She said she had the governor’s support.

DeWine apparently hasn’t spoken publicly about the measure, House Bill 598. But a spokesman didn’t dispute Schmidt’s claims.

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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.