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Democrats seek Ohio abortion amendment

Four Democratic legislators, including state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, plan to introduce a proposal to give Ohioans a vote to guarantee the rights to abortion services and access to contraception.

But the effort to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot faces a huge hurdle in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Legislature already approved a “heartbeat bill,” which bans abortions performed after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually about six weeks into a pregnancy, and is considering a bill to ban all abortions, except to save the mother’s life, to take effect immediately if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, said she felt compelled to act — with a draft ruling from the nation’s highest court leaked earlier this week that it will overturn the 1973 landmark abortion legalization decision in the coming months.

“It’s a wake-up call,” she said. “We have to do something. This is a clarion call.”

The proposed state constitutional amendment would need approval from 60 percent of the members of the General Assembly to be put on the ballot in front of voters.

It is highly unlikely the state Legislature will approve this with Republicans controlling the state House 64-35 and the Senate 25-8.

In April 2019, the House passed the “heartbeat bill” 56-40 and the Senate approved it 18-13 with Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, signing it into law. A federal judge has stopped the law from taking effect.

The Legislature also has approved restrictions that has led to a reduced number of abortion clinics in the state. Currently nine are in Ohio with six performing surgical abortions. There were 17 in 2014.

Abortions in Ohio are legal until 20 weeks into a pregnancy. After that, they only can be done if the mother’s life is in danger.

‘WHAT’S NEXT?’

Lepore-Hagan said: “The laws have been approved by right-wing extremists. We need to take this directly to the voters to protect their constitutional rights. What’s next? Our right to vote? This is a way of organizing, pushing back to reflect the beliefs of the people of Ohio.”

Despite approving legislation to reduce access to abortions, Lepore-Hagan said she was hopeful that Republican lawmakers would agree to allow voters to decide on the issue.

“This will rally large groups of people to push back,” she said. “As a legislator, it is my duty to organize and do what I can to start the conversation and have people’s voices heard. I hope the Legislature responds. I have to believe that.”

If that fails, Lepore-Hagan said she would back a citizens initiative to put the issue in front of voters.

“If the Supreme Court chooses to overturn Roe v. Wade, it will have catastrophic consequences for women across the country, millions of whom would live in states where abortion will no longer be legal or accessible,” Senate Assistant Minority Leader Nickie J. Antonio, D-Lakewood, said.

State Sen. Sandra O’Brien, R-Lenox, who represents all of Trumbull County, sponsored a bill in March 2021 to ban all abortions, except to save the mother’s life, that would take effect as soon as the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The bill doesn’t have any other exemptions including rape or incest.

She declined Thursday to comment on her “Human Life Protection Act” and the plans from the four Democrats to seek a constitutional amendment.

When she first proposed her bill, O’Brien said: “It’s time to imagine an Ohio without abortion, one where every precious human life is cherished and where no woman is victimized by the profound loss of abortion.”

The proposal would allow doctors who perform abortions to be charged with felonies and for wrongful death civil lawsuits to be filed against physicians or anyone who performs an abortion.

Women who have abortions would have immunity against prosecution under the proposal.

‘TRIGGER LAW’

The bill is known as a “trigger law” as it would ban abortions if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which ruled it constitutional for women to have the right to terminate their pregnancies without excessive government restrictions.

Thirteen states have approved the “trigger law.”

If the court overturns the ruling — which is expected after a draft ruling was leaked and its authenticity confirmed by the court — the decision on abortions would be up to each state.

The Senate had two committee hearings on O’Brien’s bill Sept. 29 and Oct. 27.

The Ohio House has a similar bill with a committee hearing testimony April 27 from state Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, its main sponsor.

During that hearing, Schmidt was asked what would happen if a 13-year-old girl gets pregnant after being raped.

At one point, she said: “Just because you have emotional scars doesn’t give you the right to take a life,” according to The Columbus Dispatch.

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