Abortion rights supporters protest at the Ohio Statehouse on Sunday, June 26, 2022
Abortion rights supporters protest at the Ohio Statehouse on Sunday, June 26, 2022. [Jo Ingles | Statehouse News Bureau]

Abortion plays a significant role in Ohio’s governor’s race

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) – Just a little more than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and a strict six-week ban went into effect, Democrats called for abortion to be legal in Ohio in a rally at the Statehouse.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Dayton mayor Nan Whaley spoke out against the new ban, put in place within hours of the high court’s ruling, and referenced a statement DeWine reportedly made in a call to members of an anti-abortion group.

“DeWine has been in office for 46 years, my entire life, trying to ban abortion. And just last week, he said he wants to go as far as possible,” Whaley said.

The ban is on hold now but could be restored as it goes through the courts. Whaley has promised to veto any future anti-abortion legislation if she’s elected. She’s promised to put in place an Ohio Department of Health director who supports abortion rights. And she says she would support a future constitutional amendment that could restore abortion rights for Ohioans.

“It’s very simple. We want Roe,” Whaley said.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said repeatedly that he’s glad he signed Ohio’s so-called “heartbeat bill ban:”, when his predecessor, fellow Republican John Kasich, vetoed it.

“This was a bill I wanted to sign. I’m proud I signed it,” DeWine said.

Democrats have been banking on abortion to be a key issue with voters. Before the May primary, DeWine touted his anti-abortion stance prominently on his website. It’s since been revised and his record on abortion is not as obvious. But DeWine has long supported initiatives backed by Ohio Right to Life, and this year he reappointed the group’s president, who is not a doctor, to the state medical board.

But DeWine says he sees being “pro-life” as more than abortion. He has signed into law programs that benefit low-income children and families. He supports making diapers tax deductible and offering state employees better maternity benefits. His office recently announced an expansion of Medicaid services for low-income moms, but DeWine didn’t hold a news conference about it. And his spokesman, Dan Tierney, says there won’t be one.

“We put this out by press release, in part, because any press conference these days tends to just devolve into questions about Dobbs and abortion,” Tierney said.

Throughout the summer, abortion was a hot topic made hotter by stories like the 10 year old Ohio rape victim who traveled to Indiana to get an abortion. DeWine didn’t want to talk about the ban, but called the situation a horrible gut-wrenching tragedy.

“We have out there obviously a rapist, we have someone who is dangerous and we have someone who should be picked up and locked up forever,” DeWine said.

Whaley has hammered DeWine on this case, saying it and stories of pregnant women fighting cancer and other illnesses and doctors being afraid to practice in Ohio show how important access to abortion is.

“It’s not just the rights issue and the freedom issue, which is really a big deal, but it’s also a workforce issue. It’s a health care issue and it touches everyone’s lives in very unique ways. And for that to be ripped out of women’s hands so quickly, we need to take some action,” Whaley said.

The legislature is likely to remain firmly controlled by Republicans, so more bills on abortion could be on the way. DeWine has said he doesn’t want to ban birth control, but hasn’t said much beyond that.

“The Legislature is not even going to come back until November and we will deal with it then,” DeWine said.

The Ohio Supreme Court will most likely determine the abortion ban’s fate. And the three Republican justices on the ballot told Cincinnati Right to Life’s PAC they believe life begins at fertilization.

Despite Whaley’s constant calls for a public debate, DeWine hasn’t agreed to one. Polls show Whaley has low name recognition, and DeWine, who’s been in public office for four decades, has raised more than three times the money Whaley has.

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