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DeWine backs off earlier suggestion that lawmakers should change Ohio's abortion policy now

Gov Mike DeWine answers questions from reporters about Ohio's abortion policy
Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau
Gov Mike DeWine answers questions from reporters about Ohio's abortion policy.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday saidnow is not the time for the state to make changes to its abortion policy. That's a contrast from earlier this summer, when he suggested state lawmakers come back from their summer break to clarify the state abortion ban now on hold by legal action.

That law, also known as the so-called "Heartbeat Bill," bans abortion at the point fetal cardiac electronic activity is detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

It was immediately put in place last summer on June 24, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Throughout that summer, women stepped forward with stories about how their lives were put at risk because of the state ban. And, a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio made national news when she went to Indiana to get an abortion. In September, a Hamilton County court put the ban on hold, saying it was overly vague. It remains in legal limbo now.

In April, DeWine suggested Ohio lawmakers make changes to the law. And earlier this week, Republican Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) challenged DeWine to give specifics about changes he'd like to see. But on Thursday, DeWine said he doesn't want abortion policy changed before the November election. He said he'll oppose the November amendment to enshrine abortion rights into the Ohio Constitution, a measure he called "radical." But when repeatedly pressed, he would not give specifics about elements he might support.

"This constitutional amendment, what's in front of us now, we have to go through the process. We're going to get to where we have a policy that the majority of Ohioans can say, 'Yeah, OK,' " DeWine said.

DeWine said he thinks the constitutional amendment is extreme and out of step with the majority of Ohioans. And he thinks a policy can be crafted in the future that will be more acceptable than that the amendment.

"We will end up in the state of Ohio with a policy on abortion that is accepted, that the majority of the people accept and the majority of people are comfortable with. That is ultimately the goal," DeWine said.

But for now, DeWine said he'll focus on what's going to be on the ballot rather than any specific alternatives that might be available.

"In the fall, the burden of proof — the burden of proof for what I consider is a radical approach — is on those who are the proponents of the constitutional amendment," DeWine said. "But we will have ample time to talk about this and it will play out over the weeks and months ahead."

Advocates of the abortion amendment react

When asked about the comments DeWine made, Dr. Lauren Beene, the executive director of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, responded by saying, "It seems like the political strategy changes, depending on the day."

Beene said the reproductive rights amendment that Ohioans will vote on this November was written with doctors to be medically accurate so it will be able to protect patients. She said politicians should not have a part in that doctor-patient relationship. And she suggested a law written by politicians that could achieve some sort of middle ground is not what Ohio needs.

"That's not health care. That's not how it works. When access to medical care is restricted, especially when those restrictions are written by people who are not actually practicing medicine, people suffer and people die. And as a physician, I cannot allow that to happen if there is something I can do to stop it."

The six-week abortion ban remains on hold, awaiting a hearing by the Ohio Supreme Court. That's scheduled for Sept. 27. It could be put in place again at some point in the future. Current Ohio law allows abortion up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy. Beene said the abortion amendment is not extreme or radical. She said it guarantees Ohioans will continue to have the same access to abortion in the future as they have right now.

"It is in no way any more extreme or radical than anything we are currently functioning under in the state of Ohio," Beene said.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.