COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — With her two-week-old son in hand, Cleveland gynecologist Lisa Perriera told demonstrators at the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday that new laws limiting access to abortions and other women’s health care are creating unnecessary hurdles for her patients.
Perriera said that because of the laws she recently had to require a couple forced to end a pregnancy for medical reasons to listen to the fetal heartbeat and undergo an ultrasound to determine the pregnancy’s viability before sending them out of state for a legal late-term abortion.
“I’m here today to speak in opposition to the continuous assault on comprehensive reproductive health care by our state elected officials and to demand that Ohio politicians get out of my exam room,” Perriera told the crowd of several hundred at the “We Won’t Go Back” rally.
Participants from more than 50 women’s groups, labor unions and elsewhere hoped the rally would draw the attention of Republican Gov. John Kasich and GOP lawmakers who control both chambers of the Legislature and favor restrictions on abortion.
Demonstrators waved signs attacking Kasich and other male leaders for effectively de-funding Planned Parenthood and passing abortion-related restrictions on Ohio’s publicly funded hospitals and on counselors at taxpayer-funded rape crisis centers.
The president of Ohio Right to Life predicted the event would do little to sway opinions on abortion.
“It’s a political stunt. It’s nothing more than a charade,” Mike Gonidakis said. “It won’t move the needle at all in the state.”
Gonidakis said Ohio has a history of preventing public money from being spent on abortions and of enacting tough laws against the procedure, including a late-term abortion ban.
Two Ohio clinics offering abortions have recently closed and a third, in Toledo, is expected to close in the next six months as a result of the changes.
“This was done in a trick maneuver and it’s very important that women rally and fix it,” Feminist Majority Foundation President Ellie Smeal, one of the event speakers, said in a telephone interview. “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, not leaving time for debate. Several of the proposals, including Planned Parenthood defunding, had been extensively debated earlier as separate bills.
Smeal said clinic closures are limiting access to inexpensive services including pap smears, birth control, breast cancer screening and abortions in the state.
Perriera and Smeal were joined on the podium Wednesday by National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill and other leaders of the abortion rights and women’s movements.
The groups, joined by Democratic lawmakers, have sought with mixed success to raise the profile of the women’s health care debate in Ohio in the wake of the abortion-related budget changes.
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 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. Most patients last year were Ohio residents, with about a third between ages 20 to 24.