“We won’t go back!”
That was the message from the hundreds of Ohioans who rallied at the state capitol Wednesday, demanding that the Republican legislature and GOP Governor John Kasich stop legislating women’s bodies.
The rally came just a few days after the Democrats in the state house introduced a bill that would undo the myriad of attacks on reproductive health that were passed as amendments to the state’s last budget bill, many of which were added last minute and without any hearings or debate.
Among the restrictions on reproductive health being addressed by the proposed bill would be a repeal of the defunding of Planned Parenthood, a gag order on rape crisis centers forbidding them to refer to organizations that offered abortion services, a “transfer agreement” protocol for abortion clinics that could close many, and has already closed both clinics in Toledo, and a mandatory ultrasound prior to a termination.
The Wednesday rally was organized by 50 women’s groups and professional organizations, including the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and the National Organization for Women (NOW). Both Ellie Smeal, president of the FMF, and Terry O’Neill, president of NOW, spoke at the event, urging Ohioans to continue to fight and telling them that they aren’t alone.
“The nation is watching Ohio, and we got your backs. The woman of Ohio will stand with Virginia, Texas and North Carolina and they will stand with you,” said O’Neill.
“Women are not fooled by the hide-and-sneak tactics of John Kasich and his pals who want to push us back to the 1950s,” added O’Neill, referring to the last minute amendment tucked into the budget just days before a final vote.
Also speaking out were local doctors, concerned about the legislature’s impact on their ability to perform their jobs and keep up with medical best practices, and religious organizations informing the attendees that not every person of faith agrees with the anti-choice mission of the local politicians. “There are 2 million Catholics in Ohio and only 15 are bishops,” said Sara Hutchinson, Domestic Program Director for Catholics for Choice.
For national activists like Smeal and O’Neill, who have literally been fighting the battle for women’s autonomy for decades, this is indeed a return to the past. For local advocates, the need to reassert the right to access birth control and abortion is much more local and immediate.
The decision to defund those who provide reproductive health services comes as Ohioans are already seeing the effects of lack of access to contraception and preventative care. Although the abortion rate remains low, it is increasing, especially among people of color, a statistic that Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, says is a direct impact of the lack of affordable family planning services for that population. “Twenty-one percent of African-Americans have no health insurance, and their access to birth control is limited, so they have a higher rate of unintended pregnancies,” she told the Columbus Dispatch. “It’s lack of health care, it’s (low) income, there are so many factors of unintended pregnancies.”
There are so many factors, yet so many of the ways that unintended pregnancies could be prevented are being blocked by an Ohio GOP determined to cut off all access to any form of reproductive care — even contraception. It’s like they really are going back in time.
If so, they aren’t going without a fight from the women in the state. As Ohio lawyer Sharen Neuhardt, who opened the day’s rally, promised, “Gov. Kasich and the state legislators are trying to turn back the clock but we are here today to tell them ‘We won’t go back.’”
Photo credit: State Rep. Kathleen Clyde