"If the Backstreet Boys could regroup and go on tour, so can the Caveman Caucus," shouted State Rep. Nickie J. Antonio at a press conference Tuesday morning outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. "Because that's what we've got, a Caveman Caucus."
She and other regional Democrats were voicing their disapproval—and utter disbelief—at the state budget passed Sunday evening, a budget with the most aggressive anti-abortion legislation in the state's history.
Antonio gestured to a photo, blown-up and taped to the lectern in front of her, of Governor John Kasich signing the budget, surrounded by a half-moon of balding white guys blithely securing their bellies with crossed hands.
To be clear, the budget is just about the worst piece of legislation ever.
In addition to their continued systematic attack on low-income families—no Medicaid expansion, notably—the Republican-led legislature weaseled into the budget controversial line-items that directly affect women's access to reproductive healthcare and family planning services.
"These restrictive clauses push back women's rights to the 1950s," said Cynthia Demsey, chair of the Cuyahoga Democratic Women's Caucus, in a prepared statement. "Governor Kasich, we will not forget that you chose to put politicians in charge of women's private medical decisions... and pass legislation that jeopardizes women's lives."
Five significant pieces got through, all of which Kasich chose not to veto.
1) Planned Parenthood has been moved to the back of the line for family-planning funds. That looks to be a practical loss of about $1.4 million dollars. The Columbus Dispatch expects three Ohio clinics will close as a result. (This means reduced access to low-cost cancer screenings and contraception, by the way.)
2) Physicians are now legally required to perform a medically unnecessary transabdominal ultrasound and check for a fetus' heartbeat before performing an abortion.
3) Rape crisis centers will lose their funding if they counsel rape victims about abortion.
4) Transfer agreements have been limited for abortion clinics, which means that should medical emergencies occur during a procedure, women cannot be transferred to public hospitals for additional care.
5) Temporary assistance for needy family funds have been diverted to unregulated "pregnancy crisis centers"—often run by religious organizations—which do not offer abortion referral services.
Demsey said afterwards that what's most upsetting is legislators' limiting resources at both ends of the process. "They make it impossible to prevent a pregnancy and then impossible to get access to family planning services," she said.
"It challenges common sense," added Antonio, who voted no on the budget. "I'm sick of women being used as a political football. Our lives hang in the balance here." She said these items likely will not be up for referendum, and that the only recourse is at the ballot in 2014.
Enter Ed FitzGerald.
"When I saw what happened down in Columbus, I had to pinch myself and say 'Where am I?'" said the Cuyahoga County Executive in candid remarks at the microphone. "This isn't just for women. All people should be speaking out against this."
FitzGerald acknowledged that abortion has been and will continue to be a divisive issue in state and federal politics, but that some of the budget's restrictions ought to be unequivocally opposed.
"That some politician is regulating the type of advice a rape victim could get from a rape counselor is just unspeakable to me. It's just outrageous." FitzGerald said. "What are they thinking? What problem is that addressing? What? Are rape victims getting excessive advice at crisis centers? What world are they living in?"
They're living in this world, sadly, and in this state. It's a state in which an extremist legislature has been pulling ideological strings at the expense of Ohio's citizens for too long. One thing is certain: the women of Ohio are counting down the days to November, 2014, and so is Ed FitzGerald.
"They may have thought this was something they could do late on a Sunday evening, but they are going to be living with this decision every day until November," he said, as the gathered women behind him began chanting We will not forget.
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