SUDDES: Abortion may dominate Ohio’s November election

Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University and the former Statehouse reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.

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Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University and the former Statehouse reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.

Monday’s revelation of a draft U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade, a keystone of abortion rights since 1973, has touched off a firestorm, assuming the court adopts Justice Samuel Alito’s reasoning: The net effect could be to let each state’s legislature virtually end abortion inside that state.

Should the General Assembly move to further limit or even ban abortion in Ohio (and legislators will try) the Statehouse and Capitol Square will see the biggest turnout ever of angry partisans.

Likewise, if the Supreme Court does in fact overturn Roe, giving Ohio’s General Assembly and the 49 other state legislatures full power to do as they wish about abortion, abortion may the issue in this November’s election to fill the Ohio House’s 99 seats and half the state Senate’s 33.

In Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohio has a right-to-life governor, who has said he’d sign an abortion ban. And given its legislative record, the Ohio General Assembly has a de facto right-to-life majority. At a minimum, Roe vs. Wade’s reversal would likely let Ohio’s heartbeat bill (Substitute Senate Bill 23 of 2019) take effect. It forbids an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detectable.

It’s hard to believe, given those factors, that if a Supreme Court majority does in fact give states power to limit abortion, Ohio’s General Assembly wouldn’t be among the first to try that, stoking a donnybrook likely unprecedented in scope and anger.

Politically speaking, given Ohio’s divisions, that’d be like lighting a match near gasoline, with mass demonstrations and the like at the Statehouse, thronged committee hearings and marathon floor debates – all unfolding amid a male-dominated, still-gerrymandered, legislature in an Ohio whose population, the Census says, is 51% female.

Alito’s draft stressed that assigning a state’s full authority over abortion didn’t mean that the high court would also let the 50 states individually decide whether to obey or ignore other Supreme Court opinions. A good example: Obergefell vs. Hodges, the case, originating in Ohio, that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. “Nothing in this [draft] opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,” the Alito draft reads.

Really? There’s a word for someone who thinks that canning Roe vs. Wade (decided almost a half-century ago) wouldn’t threaten Obergefell (decided seven years ago June): Naïve.

And when, not if, the (gerrymandered) legislature acted to all-but-ban abortion in Ohio, legislators would surely strive to insulate – by some parliamentary gimmick – the in-Ohio ban from going to the ballot via voter-petitioned referendum.

That’s why pro-life as well as pro-choice voters should focus on this year’s elections for the Ohio Supreme Court, where lawsuits over any abortion-ban laws would likely end up. Of course, incumbent justices and people running for justice can’t say what stances they’d take on a post-Alito Ohio abortion ban. But cues (wink, wink) and endorsements wouldn’t be scarce.

Of course, all that assumes DeWine is reelected. He is certainly the most determined anti-abortion governor Ohio has had.

Be it noted, though, that former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, whom Democrats nominated on Tuesday to challenge DeWine, is 100% pro-choice, which could make of November’s gubernatorial election a kind of Ohio referendum on abortion, if the U.S. Supreme Court does overturn Roe, whether wholly, as the Alito draft would have it, or partially, in a compromise Chief Justice John Roberts is said to seek.

Especially if the court opts for Alito’s draft, or something close, fasten your seat belts, Ohioans: Your ride to November will be bumpy.

Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University and the former Statehouse reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.

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