New faces and familiar arguments in City Club of Cleveland’s Ohio Issue 1 forum
At the City Club of Cleveland last week, proponents and opponents debated Issue 1, which goes before Ohio voters this November. The proposal establishes a constitutional right for Ohioans to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions, including abortion. Both sides of the debate brought along an outside expert to bolster their arguments on stage.
The opponents continued to hammer on a series of questionable arguments. They warned darkly of parental rights evaporating and late term abortions becoming the norm. They ignored Ohio’s six-week abortion ban — on the books but tied up in courts — to argue Ohio’s current standard protects abortion through 22 weeks.
Issue 1 supporters pushed back on those claims, calling out “scare tactics” and insisting the proposal’s constitutional standards are nothing new. Just as they could after the landmark court decisions Roe and Casey, lawmakers will be able to regulate — or ban — abortion after fetal viability. But, just as those cases established, those limitations must include exceptions for protecting the life and health of the mother.
Dr. Lindsay Rerko from Westerville spoke on behalf of Issue 1’s opponents. She argued having an abortion increases the risk of preterm birth for a mother’s next pregnancy, and that Ohio’s existing law offers all protection needed.
“Women currently, and will continue to, have access to contraceptive care, miscarriage care and there is always going to be an exemption in the law for the life of the mother,” she argued. “These things are currently in place, and they’re going to stay in place. All that Issue 1 adds is painful late term abortions.”
The phrase “late-term abortion” is not a medical term, and is rejected by the medical community as misleading. In reality, however, the abortions allowed under Issue 1 after fetal viability are the ones Rerko herself insisted are already allowed. The amendment explicitly allows restrictions after fetal viability so long as there are exceptions for the mother’s health. And although she’s correct that Ohioans have access to a broad range of reproductive health care currently, that access is contingent.
Ohio’s six-week abortion ban remains in statute, even if a federal court has put it on hold. That law carries an exception for the life of the mother, but not for rape or incest. In practice, however, the policy makes it exceptionally difficult to get an abortion, regardless of the exceptions.
What’s more, some state lawmakers want to go even further than the existing benchmark. Bills filed in the last legislative session would prohibit abortion outright with an exception for the life of the mother, or establish “personhood” at the moment of conception. The latter potentially threatens access to some forms contraception and IVF.
Although Rerko acknowledged Ohio doesn’t have enough primary care physicians she brushed off the possibility of strict abortion policies pushing doctors to practice elsewhere. “I just don’t think the fruition is there,” she argued.
While Rerko didn’t reiterate the campaign’s talking points about parental rights, she argued the amendment’s protection of fertility treatment could be applied to gender-affirming care. Rerko also claimed without evidence that providers are conducting abortions without reporting them.
While Rerko didn’t argue Issue 1 will undermine Ohio’s parental consent statutes for abortion, campaign spokeswoman Mehek Cooke insisted the amendment “eviscerates” those provisions. Capital University law professor Dan Kobil called that “absolutely absurd.”
“This law does not affect parental consent by one iota,” Kobil insisted. “This has been fact-checked time and again. The U.S. Supreme Court, during the Roe v. Wade era, which this amendment tries to take us back to, upheld Ohio’s parental consent law.”
Kobil described his role as keeping the discussion “tethered to reality and the law,” and insisted Issue 1 offers a simple proposition:
“Issue 1 is about reinstating the freedoms that Ohioans enjoyed for decades before Roe v. Wade was overturned,” he explained.
The alternative, he argued, is similarly straightforward. Ohio already saw what a six-week abortion ban would like during the 80-plus days that law was in effect. Kobil argued state lawmakers would reestablish those provisions in short order if given the opportunity.
“They’re trying to create this illusion that 22 weeks will be the law if we vote down Issue 1,” Kobil said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. If the government of Ohio is empowered to make our decisions for us, at six weeks, that’s what they’re going to do. If we say no, they will feel heartened to do that.”
A question from the public asked Issue 1’s opponents how they square support for limited government with Ohio lawmakers’ repeated efforts to limit access to abortion. Cooke insisted Ohio’s abortion legislation amount to “basic safeguards,” noting she can support seat belts and still be for limited government.
Kobil argued back that Issue 1 is an example of limited government. “You know what limits government?” he asked, “The Ohio Constitution.” Kobil argued the amendment strikes a balance, giving lawmakers room to regulate while ensuring citizens maintain a right to access. Citing the case that overturned Roe, Kobil noted U.S. Supreme Court Clarence Thomas’ floated the idea of rolling back protections for contraception. He warned doing nothing gives lawmakers the latitude to take those kinds of steps.
“If we want to leave the door open to the government doing that, then vote no on Issue 1,” Kobil argued. “But I don’t think most of Ohioans want that form of quote-unquote limited government.”
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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