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Abortion emerges as big issue in Ohio governor's race

 Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (left) and Democrat and former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley will faceoff in the governor's race.
AP composite photos
Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (left) and Democrat and former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley will faceoff in the governor's race.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v Wade ruling that guaranteed legal abortion nationwide on June 24, the issue has become a key talking point in political races, though polls show the economy is still the top concern of voters.

In a continuing series previewing the 2022 Ohio Elections from the Statehouse News Bureau, a look at the role abortion is playing in the race for Ohio governor.

Just a little more than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and a strict six-week ban went into effect, Democrats called for abortion to be legal in Ohio in a rally at the Statehouse.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Dayton mayor Nan Whaley spoke out against the new ban, put in place within hours of the high court’s ruling, and referenced a statement DeWine reportedly made in a call to members of an anti-abortion group.

“DeWine has been in office for 46 years, my entire life, trying to ban abortion. And just last week, he said he wants to go as far as possible," Whaley said to jeers from the crowd.

The ban is on hold now, but could be restored as it goes through the courts.

Whaley has promised to veto any future anti-abortion legislation if she’s elected. She’s promised to put in place an Ohio Department of Health director who supports abortion rights. She also said she would support a future constitutional amendment that could restore abortion rights for Ohioans.

“It's very simple. We want Roe,” Whaley said.

DeWine has said repeatedly that he’s glad he signed Ohio’s so-called “heartbeat bill ban,” when his predecessor, fellow Republican John Kasich, vetoed it.

“This was a bill I wanted to sign. I’m proud I signed it,” the governor said.

Democrats have been banking on abortion to be a key issue with voters.

Before the May primary, DeWine touted his anti-abortion stance prominently on his website. It’s since been revised and his record on abortion is not as obvious.

But DeWine has long supported initiatives and is backed by Ohio Right to Life. This year he reappointed the group’s president Mike Gonidakis, who is not a doctor, to the state medical board.

DeWine said he sees being “pro-life” as more than abortion. He has signed into law programs that benefit low-income children and families. He supports making diapers tax deductible and offering state employees better maternity benefits. His office recently announced an expansion of Medicaid services for low-income moms, but DeWine didn’t hold a news conference about it. His spokesman, Dan Tierney, said there won’t be one.

"In part, because any press conference these days just tends to devolve into questions about Dobbs and abortion,” Tierney said.

Throughout the summer, abortion was a hot topic made hotter by stories like the 10-year-old Columbus rape victim who traveled to Indiana to get an abortion. DeWine didn’t talk about the ban, but called the situation a horrible gut-wrenching tragedy.

“We have out there obviously a rapist, someone who is dangerous and we have someone who should be picked up and locked up forever,” DeWine said.

Whaley has hammered DeWine on this case, saying it and stories of pregnant women fighting cancer and other illnesses and doctors being afraid to practice in Ohio show how important access to abortion is.

“It's not just the rights issue and the freedom issue, which is really a big deal, but it's also a workforce issue. It's a healthcare issue and it touches everyone's lives in very unique ways. And for that to be ripped out of women's hands so quickly, we need to take some action,” DeWine said.

The Ohio legislature is likely to remain firmly controlled by Republicans, so more bills on abortion could be on the way. DeWine has said he doesn’t want to ban birth control but hasn’t said much beyond that.

“The legislature isn’t going to come back until November and we will deal with it then,” DeWine said.

The Ohio Supreme Court will most likely determine the abortion ban’s fate. All three Republican justices on the ballot told Cincinnati Right to Life’s PAC they believe life begins at fertilization.

Despite Whaley’s constant calls for a public debate, DeWine hasn’t agreed to one. Polls show Whaley has low name recognition, and DeWine, who’s been in public office for four decades, has raised more than three times the money Whaley has.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.