Chipping away at reproductive rights in Ohio

A new law prohibits the use of state funds -- including Medicaid -- for abortions or abortion-related services.

By Catherine Price
Published January 9, 2007 10:36PM (EST)

Often, it can feel like there's not much new to say about the abortion debate itself, except when -- as happened on Jan. 4 -- legislation is passed that changes the status quo.

Ohio's outgoing Republican governor, Bob Taft, signed into law a bill (HB 239) that outlaws using state funds -- including Medicaid -- for abortions, except in cases of rape or incest or when the pregnant woman's life is at risk. It also states that "it is the public policy of the state of Ohio to prefer childbirth over abortion to the extent that it is constitutionally permissible." (What's more, the law also gives people the right to file complaints in common pleas courts if they think they've found a clinic that's unlicensed, which can result in the facility being closed, restricted or fined $10,000 a day.) A spokesperson for incoming Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, says that Strickland "would not have supported the measure," according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Too bad, then, that Strickland didn't take office till this Monday, several days too late to block the bill's passage. Now Ohio women have been divided into two groups: those with enough money to afford an abortion regardless of what the state condones and those without that option. Encouraging more children to be born into poor families without providing more sex education or contraceptive options for potential parents? Now, that sounds like a great public policy decision.

The law is slightly less horrible than its competition: HB 228, which would have banned all abortions in Ohio (and criminalized crossing state lines for an abortion), potentially triggering a U.S. Supreme Court review of Roe v. Wade, and HB 469, which would have authorized pharmacists not to fill prescriptions for birth control and emergency contraception. Thankfully, both bills failed. But still, by shutting off state funding even for abortion counseling (except in the case of medical emergency), Ohio has taken a depressing step backward in supporting women's reproductive rights.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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