SUDDES: Respectfulness, dignity essential in abortion debate

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at tsuddes@gmail.com.

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Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at tsuddes@gmail.com.

There’s good news and bad news at the Statehouse. The good news is that Ohio ended its 2021-22 fiscal year in great shape – in big part because of Joe Biden’s American Recovery Plan Act, which GOP Gov. Mike DeWine said he wouldn’t have voted for (and which just goes to show that politics is just another world for agility).

The bad news is the publicity hit Ohio takes nationally, and may keep taking after November’s election, because of a gerrymandered General Assembly that sometimes makes “Hee Haw” seem highbrow.

There’s no indication, at the moment, that the General Assembly will return to Columbus before the Nov. 8 general election. But whether before or after, abortion will be the No. 1 topic on the agenda. And depending on leadership, real leadership, not just gavel-holding, the November and December sessions of the General Assembly will be dignified, or chaotic.

Whatever an Ohioans thinks about the Supreme Court’s June 24 Dobbs decision – overturning Roe vs. Wade – she or he can likely agree that few things can be more personal than human reproduction. In effect, the decision leaves it up to every state’s legislators, and voters, to regulate abortion as they see fit – even to forbid it.

Still, after almost a half-century of working for, and in many instances praying for, Roe’s reversal, an anti-abortion officeholder may be tempted to rush anti-abortion legislation to DeWine’s desk without fretting over the details – not just legal, but also human.

Even so, public opinion, in Ohio as elsewhere, is anything but unanimous about whether abortion should always be illegal or if there is some number of weeks “x” (during a pregnancy) before which abortion should be legal or some factors “y” (medical, or criminal) to permit it.

Then there’s this – the Statehouse imbalance in politics between women and men. Ohio’s population, the Census reports, is 50.7% female. But the General Assembly has a male majority, and then some. According to the Legislative Service Commission, the percentage of female members of the General Assembly, as elected in November 2020, was 31% – agreed, apparently a new high, but still almost 20 percentage points below the 50.7% statewide percentage.

Moreover, after 219 years of statehood, Ohio has had just one female House speaker, Reynoldsburg Republican Jo Ann Davidson (1995 through 2000) and one female Senate majority leader, Cleveland Heights Democrat Margaret Mahoney (in 1949 and 1950). (Mahoney’s post was equivalent to today’s Senate presidency.)

That is, late this year, a male-majority legislature led by two men will likely act to regulate women’s reproductive health in a female-majority state. If that doesn’t demand Statehouse committee hearings and floor debate that are respectful and dignified, nothing does.

Agreed, respectfulness and dignity are qualities hard to expect and even harder to witness in what sometimes seems like a colossal Columbus frat party. But they’re essential when dealing with a topic as sensitive as abortion.

BIG NON-SURPRISE: For the second time, Ohio’s Supreme Court last week overturned, in a 4-3 ruling, congressional districts Ohio Republicans drew for this year’s elections.

The ruling makes obvious, as has been for a while, that ballot issues Ohioans passed in 2015 and 2018 to preclude rigged districts were well-intentioned but defective. One defect is that the measures needed more specific wording about measuring fairness

The second defect, and the major one, is to allow Ohio General Assembly members to help draw new districts – for the General Assembly or U.S. House. Letting legislators take part is the very definition of conflict-of-interest, which explains the gerrymandering mess Ohio is in today.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at tsuddes@gmail.com.

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