The close of the 133rd Ohio General Assembly (OGA) is rapidly approaching. We are in the final stretch of lame duck, a time between the general election and the end of the year when a new legislative session starts. Ohio legislators hurry to wrap up whatever unfinished business they have from the past two years. Mindful of the ticking clock, lawmakers try to push priority bills across the finish line. They also use the rushed process to introduce new, and often extreme, legislation in hopes that it will pass in the midst of the commotion. For that, lame duck is always chaotic. This year is no exception. And in addition to the typical lame duck legislative shenanigans, we are in a global pandemic and Senate and House leadership refuse to allow virtual testimony in any committees at the Ohio Statehouse! This is of course frustrating because it limits access to the hearing process, but more importantly it’s an incredibly irresponsible and dangerous decision as the number of positive cases within the walls of the Statehouse continues to rise.
Another predictable and disheartening pattern of Ohio’s lame-duck session is that the roughly six-week period is always an all-out attack on reproductive freedom. Lame duck is a small portion of the overall legislative session but it packs a punch. Prior to the current session, 40% of anti-abortion bills passed by the legislature since 2011 happened in lame duck. The 133rd OGA is following suit, as two controversial anti-abortion bills are headed to DeWine’s desk after passing both the House and the Senate during the past two weeks.
- Senate Bill 27, the “fetal and embryonic tissue disposal restrictions” bill, requires allfetal remains from an abortion be disposed of by either cremation or burial. Abortion clinics will be responsible for paying the cost of cremation or interment of fetal tissue. There is no medically justifiable reason to force abortion clinics to adhere to this new unnecessary and highly burdensome requirement. The unconstitutional bill is clearly intended to stigmatize abortion, abortion providers, and those seeking an abortion, and the OGA engaged in a targeted effort to pass it.
- Senate Bill 260 – the “telemedicine abortion ban” bill, bans abortions performed with the use of telemedicine. Telemedicine abortion improves health equity and is a reliable option for patients who can’t easily get to a clinic. Ohioans already face a number of barriers to accessing the health care that they need. Yet, here we are in the middle of a pandemic and this is what the OGA is fighting to get signed into law.
What’s the message here? Despite all the hardships brought on by 2020, legislators are using lame duck to prioritize abortion bans over what Ohioans really need.
At the end of 2019, we compiled a list and timeline of what we saw at the Ohio Statehouse during the first half of the 133rd OGA with regards to reproductive rights. Spoiler alert: (To no one’s surprise) It wasn’t good. Lawmakers kicked off the legislative session by waging war again on abortion, introducing 9 bills that promote the anti-choice agenda. Unfortunately, things did not improve during the second half of the OGA. We saw two more awful bills get introduced – Senate Bill 260 (which is described above) and House Bill 538, the “trigger ban” bill, which would instantly block abortion access if the U.S. Supreme Court rules to overturn Roe vs. Wade. The bill also makes it a felony for doctors to administer abortion drugs and to perform surgical abortions.
In total, 11 anti-choice/anti-abortion/anti-reproductive rights bills have been introduced this legislative session. We know that two of these bills were passed by the legislature during lame duck and are awaiting Governor DeWine’s signature. Another one of these bills, Senate Bill 23, was signed into law but has a temporary block on it as litigation proceeds. Senate Bill 23, known as the “six-week abortion ban”, bans abortions of any “unborn human individual” whose fetal heartbeat has been detected”, essentially limiting abortions to six-weeks, a period of time in which most women aren’t even aware that they are pregnant.
On the flipside, only one pro-choice bill was introduced over the last 24 months. One. House Bill 184, the “no insurance ban” bill, would prohibit insurance companies from excluding contraceptives and birth control devices in regards to coverage and further protects services for victims of sexual assault. The bill received one hearing after it was introduced in April 2019 but didn’t go any further. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much movement on other pieces of proactive legislation in the maternal and reproductive health arena. This includes bills that would provide Medicaid reimbursement for doula care (House Bill 611), require health benefit plans to cover maternity services (Senate Bill 116), and improve standards of maternal healthcare and address cultural competency trainings (House Bill 435).
When it comes to the Ohio legislature and reproductive freedom, every session feels like Groundhogs Day. The bills that we saw this legislative session are much like the ones we’ve seen before. Take Senate Bill 23, for example. This is the fifth time, a “six-week abortion ban” has been proposed, with the first iteration being introduced in 2011. In Ohio, we’ve become accustomed to “zombie bills” proposing controversial forms of abortion restriction coming back to life with each new OGA. It shouldn’t have to be this way.
Ohio needs a new reproductive agenda. An agenda that allows everyone to have full control over their reproductive lives. Looking to the 134th OGA, we are calling for legislators to end the legislative harassment and issue a moratorium on bills that restrict access to abortion. We call on our legislators to acknowledge that individuals, not politicians, should exclusively have the right to decide if, when and how to grow their family. As a state, and a country, we are continuing to work through all of the challenges that 2020 presented. Ohioans have very real needs that need to be addressed next legislative session. Ohioans deserve for legislators to prioritize racial justice, affordable housing, unemployment support, and education, not abortion bans. Ohioans deserve safe and accessible health care, (again) not abortion bans. Bottom line: Ohioans deserve more from those that represent them.
Take action now!
Frustrated by what is happening during lame duck? Want to stop the bans? There is still time to make your voice heard.