March 8th was International Women’s Day and the whole month is dedicated to women’s history, so the Free Press is taking a look at the status of women here in Ohio.
  Innovation Ohio analyzed Ohio Governor John Kasich’s 2015 budget and its impact on Ohio women. There are definite positives and negatives for women to watch out for this year.
  The good news is that the bill contains more funding for child care, preschool, maternal health and training on ways to deal with sexual assault at public colleges and universities.
  Here’s the bad news. According to Innovation Ohio, proposed tax changes benefit the wealthy and raise taxes on lower income Ohioans. Not a surprise, but unfortunately most low-income Ohioans are women.
  The budget also forces lower income women to pay more for Medicaid. In addition, the bill may cause 13,000 independent home health care workers to lose their jobs as state funding shifts to agency-based home health programs. Worst of all, if a women makes over $16,105 a year and becomes pregnant or is diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer, she will no longer be eligible for Medicaid and will have to shop around for individual medical coverage.

Back to the fifties

  Overall, the progress of women’s issues has been racing backwards, aiming for some time in the 1950s, rather than 2015. Since Governor Kasich took office, he and the Republican majority in the statehouse have repeatedly attempted to restrict women’s health services and reproductive rights.
  First, they passed a bill that blocked funding for Planned Parenthood; forbade Rape Crisis Centers from recommending abortion clinics; and forced abortion clinics to have written transfer agreements with hospitals – then prohibited abortion clinics from entering transfer agreements with public hospitals or doctors affiliated with public hospitals – causing many clinics to close all over the state.
  Bills they tried to pass include the infamous “Heartbeat Bill” that would ban abortion of a fetus with a detectable heartbeat no matter what the circumstance. Another is an abortion notification bill that requires a 48-hour waiting period prior to abortion and redefines an abortion “medical emergency” from being a risk to the women’s health to “…the death of the woman would result from the failure to immediately terminate the pregnancy.”
  Shockingly, the abortion notification bill also included language that requires the abortion doctor to report what fees were obtained for performing the abortion compared to what income would have been earned if the fetus was carried to term. A doctor failing to comply with this would be guilty of a first degree felony and fined one million dollars.
  A few pro-women bills passed in last year’s legislature, including provisions for a breast and cervical cancer tax check-off; increased penalties for stalking; expanded support and protection for children in human trafficking situations; mastectomy guidelines regarding medical referrals; elimination of fees paid for making charges of domestic violence, stalking and sexually-oriented offenses; and more DNA testing for sexual offenses.

It’s getting worse

  The Free Press asked two leaders of the largest women’s rights organizations in Ohio for comment on the biggest challenges to women in our state: Anita Rios, President of the Ohio Chapter of The National Organization for Women and the Green Party Candidate for Ohio Governor in 2014; and Kellie Copeland, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
   Rios summed up her thoughts on the state of women this year: “I feel that here in Ohio, as in many states, and indeed in many places throughout the world, the situation for women has gotten worse. This is not coincidental. It is a direct result of policies in the first world, and primarily in the U.S., that have pushed the world to a more militaristic aggressive posture. As this has happened we have increased our expenditures on the maintenance and perpetuation of war and have gutted investments in our communities. This has a disproportionate effect on our most vulnerable populations which, along with communities of color, includes women.”
  Rios, grew up as one of eight children of parents who were Mexican American migrant farm workers and has worked at a number of low-income jobs. She noted, “While women have worked very hard over the years to overcome numerous barriers, including in education and employment, and have seen some significant successes, we still do not have pay equity and continue to face societal norms which put us at a disadvantage or victimize us. It is unacceptable that one in five college women will suffer sexual assault, it is unacceptable that the infant mortality rate for African Americans here in Ohio is double that of whites.”
  “We must understand that, as we invest ever greater amounts of our tax dollars in making wars, we are shifting our resources and our focus away from maintaining and sustaining our communities. Remembering that woman's rights are human rights we must look at the full picture of how we create strong and humane communities to keep all of us moving forward to realize our full potential,” Rios said.

Beat back the sexist attack

  Copeland, who has been with NARAL Ohio for 12 years, gave the Free Press her assessment of women’s status in the state: “Ohio gets an F. The 2015 Report Card on Women’s Reproductive Rights from NARAL Pro-Choice America gives Ohio a failing grade. The rights of Ohio women have declined dramatically under the administration of Governor John Kasich. In 2011, the General Assembly passed legislation to make the judicial bypass process more difficult for a minor seeking abortion services. They banned post-viability abortions, which punishes women needing to terminate a pregnancy in the face of medical complications. Ohio restricts insurance coverage of abortion for some individuals. Ohio funds anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) directly, refers women to CPCs, and has a "Choose Life" license-plate program. Ohio subjects abortion providers to burdensome restrictions not applied to other medical professionals. The Kasich administration is responsible for, or supports the continuation, of all of these attacks on women.”

Reproductive rights at risk

  When asked what upcoming legislation will most affect women, she said, “We’re anticipating a return of the Ohio Prevention First Act, with members of the Women’s Caucus going on the offensive. That legislation includes comprehensive sex education, guaranteed access to emergency contraception in emergency rooms and other policies proven to help women avoid unintended pregnancies. While these proactive proposals are needed, the leadership of the Ohio House and Senate are more likely to bow to the agenda of anti-choice extremists. Their lobbying power is pushing seven attacks on women, including a 20-week abortion ban. We are already seeing committee activity on the third introduction of a six-week abortion ban (aka the “Heartbeat” bill). Any of these attacks, whether they move as bills or budget amendments, will harm women’s access to health care and strip them of their constitutional rights.”
  Rios agreed that women’s reproductive rights are at most risk: ”It is unacceptable that only six of Ohio's 88 counties have abortion clinics with some women having to travel over a hundred miles to obtain a safe and legal abortion.” Rios had worked as a counselor at the Center for Choice in Toledo, but the center recently closed as a result of the restrictions on abortion clinics.
   Rios pointed out a bill sponsored by State Senator Charleta Tavares, the Contraception Coverage bill (SB 68), that would “…require health insurers to provide coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration and to prohibit employment discrimination under the Ohio Civil Rights Law on the basis of reproductive health decisions made by a person or a person’s dependent or on the basis of the employer’s personal beliefs about drugs, devices and services related to reproductive health.” She conceded that, “Although this piece of legislation does not go far enough it is a good step in the right direction.”
  Rios echoed concern about HB 117, mentioned by Copeland, that would “…prohibit the performance of an abortion on a pregnant woman when the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is twenty weeks or greater.” She noted that, “This piece of legislation is offensive, not based in science or medicine, and probably unconstitutional. It is sad that this kind of legislation can even come up for a vote. It is currently under discussion in committee.”

Resurgent women’s movement needed now

  What advice do these leaders have for Ohio’s women? Copeland responded: “The biggest challenge for women is making sure their legislator hears them. Too often, the voices of women are ignored when they speak up against attacks on their access to health care. The solution is to speak louder. One in three women seek an abortion in their lifetime. Their experiences, their stories, their unique points of view must be considered when politicians meet to decide the fate of women just like them. NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio is in the Statehouse every week, but we can’t do it alone.”   
  Rios has similar views: “While it cannot be overstated that reproductive rights are gravely at risk here in Ohio, women face the same daunting economic barriers as the rest of Ohio. While some say that we are in recovery, it is clear that there are two Ohios with many of our citizens ignored, discarded or left behind as our policies have bailed out Wall Street and the corporate political financiers. Women must be a part of a grassroots movement to elect real leaders to the state house and to governing bodies throughout the state. I urge women to run for office and be the change you want to see.”

To get involved:
NARAL: Tweet us @ProChoiceOH, find more info at, email us at, and call 1-800-GO-NARAL

Ohio NOW: Anita Rios, Ohio NOW President, 2626 Robinwood Avenue, Toledo, OH 43610, 419-243-8772 home, 419-902-6618 cell, email:,, blog: