IdeastreamPublicMedia.org, By Jo Ingles-STATEHOUSE NEWS BUREAU, Posted September 20th 2023
There is dissent among the state’s various anti-abortion groups, and one of them is accusing the others of blocking efforts to enact a total ban on abortion in Ohio before voters cast ballots on an amendment to guarantee reproductive rights in the state’s constitution.
Dozens of men, women and children sang and prayed on the grounds of the Statehouse Wednesday as part of a demonstration by the group End Abortion Ohio. It advocates for a complete and total ban of abortion with no exceptions.
Bradley Pierce, president of the Foundation to Abolish Abortion, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade has done little to end abortion.
“Abortion is not dead. It’s alive and well and flourishing and it’s happening more than ever before,” Pierce said.
For Pierce, the fact that there are any abortions at all is disturbing. He’s the soon-to-be father of 11 children under 12 years old. He said he believes a fetus should have the same protection under the law as someone who has already been born. Pierce said he supports “personhood,” the concept that human life starts at the moment of conception.
Last year, Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery) sponsored a bill (HB 704) that would have established personhood in Ohio, but the legislation never received a hearing in committee.
As Pierce and others spoke about their efforts to end abortion, Lizzie Marbach was sitting in the crowd, waiting to take her turn to speak at the podium.
Marbach, the former communications director for Ohio Right to Life, was fired in August after a public spat on social media with U.S. Congressman Max Miller of Northeast Ohio, whose wife is on the board of Ohio Right to Life. Marbach, who is pregnant and and due this month, told the group there was more to it than that. She said she often found herself at odds with the organization during her year-long tenure because of her religious principles.
“I would often push back against the idea that we had to be moderate to win on this issue, that we had to placate to the mushy middle to ever get a win to push back abortion in our state,” Marbach told the crowd.
Marbach said Ohio Right to Life and other anti-abortion groups have only advocated for restricting the procedure, not ending it altogether. She said abortion has been used as a tool for many politicians who say they oppose it.
After big wins by Republicans last November, she said she was told the General Assembly would pass a bill that went further than previous bills. She said she was told that during the lame duck session in December, lawmakers would pass a bill that would charge doctors who perform abortions with felonies but provide immunity to mothers.
“I was then told that because we did such an amazing job in getting pro-life politicians elected that they would then pass the bill first thing in January because the new legislators would be sworn in,” Marbach said.
Marbach said that effort ended on Feb. 21when abortion rights groups announced plans to put an amendment before voters in November.
“It was at that moment that Ohio Right to Life’s President Mike Gonidakis and the entire pro-life lobby in Ohio made the unanimous decision to halt all pro-life legislation and dial back rhetoric against abortion until after November 2023,” Marbach said.
Ohio Right to Life has often been criticized by some anti-abortion advocates for not backing the six-week abortion ban initially, but coming on board in 2019 when the US Supreme Court became more conservative.
Gonidakis wasn’t at the rally, and said he wasn’t aware Marbach would be speaking. He said he has no comment about her remarks because he’s not involved with anything the End Abortion Now group is advocating for or proposing. Instead, Gonidakis said he’s focused on the November election.
Sri Thakkilapati, the executive director of Preterm, an abortion clinic in Cleveland, is also focused on the upcoming election as part of the coalition that’s working to pass the amendment. She said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if lawmakers were planning to pass further abortion restrictions prior to the group’s February announcement.
“This is an example of why we need to pass Issue 1 in November. Abortion is basic health care. Many people undertake an abortion in their lifetime. And we can’t let extremist groups like this criminalize people for getting access to basic care,” Thakkilapati said.
Thakkilapati said Ohio cannot return to the days after Roe v. Wade was overturned, when the six-week abortion ban that’s now on hold by courts was in effect. She said Republican lawmakers have incrementally made it harder to get abortions in Ohio.
“Over the 49 years that Preterm has been providing abortions in Ohio, there is constant escalation of the restrictions that are imposed. Specifically about this political strategy, what we know is that these lawmakers are extremists; they are pushing an agenda that doesn’t reflect the will of Ohioans,” Thakkilapati said.
Even if Ohioans pass the amendment in November, it’s likely Ohio lawmakers will try to come back with a ballot measure to change it. Just last month, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said “If it passes in November, there’s going to be another abortion amendment go on after that to repeal that.” It’s becoming clear that no matter what happens in November, the fight over abortion will continue. It’s also clear that there will be controversy because it won’t go far enough for some — and for others, it will go too far