The GOP-dominated Ohio legislature has included in the state budget bill a series of amendments that together constitute one of the most restrictive sets of laws on abortion in the nation. In doing so, the state GOP has been very true to its publicly proclaimed principles, at least in terms of its stance on abortion rights.
If you are pro-life, you may very well be applauding the passage of such legislation, regardless of the methods used to pass it.
I think that anyone who gives a fig about the democratic process should be appalled.
Beyond the basic fact that legislation related to social issues should not be shoved into a budget bill, the abortion-related amendments were put into this budget bill almost literally at the last minute before it was presented for a vote, and the Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature allowed for no legislative debate, never mind any public input, on the amendments.
Although the GOP has been complaining incessantly that the Affordable Care Act will insert government between physicians and their patients, this bill requires physicians to make statements–scripted by legislators–first to any patient who inquires about an abortion and then again when a woman is not dissuaded from scheduling an abortion before the new twenty-week deadline that is now in effect statewide.
For quite some time, there have been no publicly funded abortions in Ohio, but this new legislation requires women not only to pay for the procedure but to submit to a prerequisite ultrasound which they also must also pay for out of their own pockets. (Perhaps Governor Kasich saw how the nickname “Governor Ultrasound” increased the popularity of Bob McDonnell of Virginia and decided that with McDonnell leaving office, he should stake a claim to the nickname.)
Although the GOP has long presented itself as the champions of transparency in government, one part of this new legislation mandates that women’s healthcare clinics must contract with public hospitals to provide emergency care for any women who experience complications due to an abortion or any other medical procedure while being treated at such a clinic—and then another part of the legislation prohibits public hospitals from entering into such contracts with women’s healthcare clinics. This legislative Catch-22 is at least as suggestive of an Orwellian state as anything going on in the NSA.
This legislation also defines human life as beginning at fertilization—a definition of “life” that Mississippi voters rejected last year. Yes, something that Mississippi voters have rejected, and not by a small margin, has been passed with almost unanimous GOP support in the Ohio legislature—passed by the party that has long demonized their political opponents for failing to “listen to the people’s voices.”
As a result of this definition of life, most commonplace forms of birth control that require a prescription will require, again, the reading of a legislatively scripted statement by the woman’s physician and also an ultrasound. I suspect that this will prove to be one of the most enduringly popular provisions of the new legislation.
And since the spirit of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock seems very much alive and well in the GOP at the state as well as the federal level, this legislation also mandates that rape-crisis clinics will lose their funding if their counselors even mention the possibility of a raped woman’s seeking an abortion. Whatever your stance on abortion rights, this provision has got to bother you because it amounts to conning a woman when she has just been victimized violently and is seeking help at a moment of terrible vulnerability.
The party that has repeatedly declared itself to be committed to smaller and less intrusive government—to keeping government out of our daily lives and out of our bedrooms—has been passing, literally, reams of legislation placing limitations on women’s most private and most intimate decisions. And this sort of legislation stands out because the party has, for the most part, become defined by what it won’t pass than by what it will pass legislatively.
Like most of the GOP governors elected across the Rust Belt in 2010, Governor Kasich has proclaimed himself to be “jobs focused.” But, this shenanigans with the budget bill is very reminiscent of the special “jobs” session of the Wisconsin legislature called by Gov. Scott Walker as momentum was building for his recall–a special session that lasted several weeks, or at least until almost everyone else stopped paying attention, and produced about a dozen boilerplate proclamations and a couple of additional anti-abortion bills, but no legislation that created even a single job in Wisconsin.
President Obama does not deserve any credit whatsoever for the repeal of Senate Bill 5 in Ohio. He sat on the sidelines while Ohio’s unions were fighting for their existence. But, as the results of the last presidential election demonstrated, his bailout of GM and Chrysler preserved many good jobs in Ohio, where one out of six private-sector jobs are in some way related to the auto industry—and that bailout has led directly to the expansion of jobs at many Ohio plants. In contrast, the track record of Governor Kasich’s JobsOhio initiative has been so mixed and even ambiguous that one is left to wonder whether it has actually produced a net-gain or a net-loss in Ohio jobs. Much has been projected and promised with resounding clarity, but what has actually been accomplished is much less clear.
Although the GOP asserts endlessly that it is the party that will reduce government spending and thus the tax burdens on “average, working Americans,” the truth is that the GOP loves to spend tax monies, just not on the basic things that to a large measure define the quality of life in our communities. This new biennial budget for Ohio not only cuts funding for women’s healthcare centers, it continues the cuts to local governments and K-12 school districts (in effect, continuing the attacks on AFSCME, the AFT, and the NEA that were nominally reversed with the repeal by referendum of Senate Bill 5). And yet government spending goes up—in this case by $7.47 billion or 12.14%. The following is a chart of the last four Ohio biennial budgets (for non-Ohioans, Ted Strickland was John Kasich’s Democratic predecessor):
Strickland First Budget (Actual): $54.81 Billion
Strickland Second Budget (Actual): $50.75 Billion
Kasich First Budget (Actual): $54.05 Billion
Kasich Second Budget (Allocated): $61.52 Billion
I should point out that Governor Kasich actually proposed almost $2 billion in spending that the GOP-dominated legislature declined to approve. And, once again, despite the increased spending, the budget includes tax breaks for the most affluent Ohioans, and this time around, it makes up for that lost revenue through regressive increases in sales and property taxes.
I am sure that some of the readers of this blog will think that with this post I have gone too far beyond the usual focus of this blog and that this post is much too explicitly politically partisan. But I am far too jaded at this point to believe that one party is always right and the other always wrong. One simply does not need to be an avid Democrat, liberal, or progressive to be concerned about what the Republican party is currently engaged in doing in too many places to count. I am very certain that Republican readers of this blog can produce a long list of abuses of the democratic process very cynically committed by Democrats, liberals, and progressives. But however many times people of other political parties and ideologies have abused the democratic process, recognizing those abuses does not at all mitigate what the GOP is doing now and how it is doing it.
Moreover, it is not as if I can be accused of mischaracterizing what the GOP is doing. It is very proud of what it is doing. Far-Right politicians and commentators have been very open about and enthusiastically applauding what they are doing–albeit largely in the Right-wing media. On FOX News and in periodicals from the National Review to the American Spectator, and from the American Conservative and Reason to World Net Daily, very, very few misgivings have been voiced about any of this legislation. It is only in the “mainstream media” that GOP politicians half-heartedly try to deny charges that this sort of legislation represents “political radicalism” and “extremism.” And let’s be clear, this is the “Frank Luntz” effect at work: that is, it is simply embracing the terms in front of a “mixed” audience that makes them uneasy.
And what has happened in Ohio to restrict abortion rights is right now happening much more messily in recurring “special sessions” of the Texas legislature, and it happened last fall in Michigan when “right to work” legislation was rammed through a lame-duck session of the Michigan legislature.
Indeed, given how radical much of this stuff is, what is surprising is that the GOP has been so open about what it does and does not support. And it is abundantly clear that public education, including public higher education, is simply not on the list of things that the party is championing.
To provide one ready illustration, last week, one state legislature began to consider a bill that will provide new “middle-class” scholarships to cover 40% of current cost of attending the state’s public colleges and universities. Another state legislature voted to cut funding to public colleges and universities by 6.8%, even though the state has now cut funding to higher education in a series of budgets, even though it is not currently running or expecting to run a budget deficit, and even though the cuts were not at all required for any fiscal reasons whatsoever. Take a guess which legislation is from California and which is from Kansas.
Here is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Wichita Eagle:
“Kansas lawmakers passed this budget in a year when their peers in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado and Oklahoma all increased higher-ed support.
“Why is Kansas the regional outlier?
“As usual in Kansas, the divide is not Republican versus Democrat. This time it’s not even conservative versus moderate.
“Instead, the politics of higher-ed funding break along a fault line separating those who value the life of the mind and recognize the economic development contributions of education from anti-intellectuals who see education as a commodity that should be produced with the fewest inputs possible.
“In this political environment, the governor, who is no egghead but clearly understands the universities’ links to quality of life and the state economy, parts company with those who are in his own ideological camp on most other fiscal matters.”
Yes, the Kansas legislature has moved so far to the Right that it has left Sam Brownback behind–providing still further evidence that what seems impossible can be imagined if one simply stops being constrained by any reasonable assumptions about what is possible.
[The entire article in the Wichita Eagle is available at:www.kansas.com/2013/06/16/2848580/gwyn-mellinger-what-is-behind.html]