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Ohio rally pushes women's health, abortion rights

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2015 1:43 p.m. MDT

Abortion rights supporters rally in opposition to proposed federal funding cuts aimed at family planning and restrictions that would prohibit funding for private organizations that use their own funds to facilitate abortions, in Philadelphia, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011.  (Associated Press) Abortion rights supporters rally in opposition to proposed federal funding cuts aimed at family planning and restrictions that would prohibit funding for private organizations that use their own funds to facilitate abortions, in Philadelphia, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011. (Associated Press)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Participants from around the state and nation are expected at a Statehouse rally on Wednesday opposing Ohio laws that limit access to abortions and other women's health care.

Members of more than 50 women's groups, labor unions and others are expected at the "We Won't Go Back" event. Its organizers take issue with effective funding cuts to Planned Parenthood as well as abortion-related restrictions placed on Ohio's publicly funded hospitals and on counselors at taxpayer-funded rape crisis centers.

"This was done in a trick maneuver and it's very important that women rally and fix it," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Ellie Smeal, one of the event speakers. "This has to be changed. Women's lives and their health care can't be made a political football like this."

What Smeal calls a "trick maneuver" was the last-minute addition of several abortion-related provisions to the state budget that didn't allow time for debate. Several of the proposals, including Planned Parenthood defunding, had been extensively debated earlier as separate bills.

Smeal said in a telephone interview ahead of the event that she hopes the rally will show the state's Republican-dominated Legislature that Ohio women oppose the closure of clinics that provide inexpensive services including pap smears, birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and abortions.

She will be joined at the podium Wednesday by National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill, Catholics for Choice domestic program director Sara Hutchinson and the state directors of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

The groups, joined by legislative Democrats, have sought to raise the profile of the women's health care debate in Ohio in the wake of the abortion-related budget changes. They've had mixed success.

Their latest effort comes on the heels of an annual state report that shows slightly more abortions were logged in Ohio last year than in 2011, marking the first increase in more than a decade.

The Department of Health says 25,473 abortions were reported in the state in 2012. That's about 700 more than in 2011, when the number hit its lowest level since the data-tracking started in 1976. The number had decreased annually between 2000 and 2011.

The report doesn't speculate on reasons for the latest year-to-year increase, though it notes an unusually small number of abortions were reported for January 2011. Most patients last year were Ohio residents, with about a third between ages 20 to 24.

As abortion rights advocates push for relaxing state restrictions on the procedure and facilities that perform it, Republican lawmakers are under pressure from the right to impose even more stringent rules.

In August, backers of an Ohio bill to effectively ban abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat re-introduced the measure, which failed to clear the Legislature last session.

The so-called heartbeat bill would prohibit abortions from being performed as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Supporters envision restrictions in the bill will provoke a legal challenge with the potential to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 abortion ruling, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

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