(Left to right): Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis, Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo, former Columbus Dispatch editor and Democratic state Representative Mike Curtin just before Tuesday’s Issue 1 debate. (Photo Courtesy NBC4/WCMH-TV).
As they push to make it a lot harder for voters to amend the Ohio Constitution, Frank LaRose and Mike Gonidakis say that no “reasonable person” is considering a ban on contraceptives. That’s false — unless they believe U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a Republican member of the Ohio legislature aren’t reasonable people.
LaRose, the Ohio secretary of state, and Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, were participating late last month in an NBC4 debate about Issue 1, a constitutional amendment that will be the sole item on Tuesday’s ballot. It would radically alter a century-old provision that was meant to allow voters to amend the state Constitution when they believed the government was unresponsive to their wishes.
Issue 1 would only need 50% to pass, but it would raise the bar for future amendments to 60%. And, while it would add no new requirements for the gerrymandered state legislature to put a proposed amendment on the ballot, it would make it far more difficult for citizens groups to put, say, an anti-gerrymandering amendment to a vote.
LaRose and Gonidakis say their goal is to “protect” the Ohio Constitution from wealthy outside interests. But as of late last month, 82% of the effort’s funding had come from an Illinois billionaire who also funded the Jan. 6, 2021 rally that preceded the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. He has given millions to candidates who falsely claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 election.
LaRose has given other, sometimes inconsistent reasons for needing to limit voter access to the Ohio Constitution.
When he was pushing an earlier version of the amendment last year, LaRose was asked if the purpose was to block an abortion rights amendment in response to Senate Bill 23 — Ohio’s abortion law that took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June 2022.
“That’s not what this kind of a change should ever be about,” LaRose replied, saying he wanted the amendment out of longer-term considerations.
But speaking to a Republican audience in June 2023, LaRose said, “It’s 100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution.”
During last month’s debate, LaRose and Gonidakis repeatedly used the word “radical” to describe the proposed abortion-rights amendment that will be on the November ballot.
But they didn’t mention what happened when the state’s abortion law — which provides no exceptions for rape and incest — was in effect last summer before being paused by a state court.
A 10-year-old rape victim was forced to go out of state to end her pregnancy and at least two other minors who were raped were denied Ohio abortions. The same was true for cancer patients waiting to be treated, and women whose fetuses had severe abnormalities or other conditions that made a successful pregnancy impossible.
Opponents of Issue 1 have said that one of its main objectives is to defeat the November abortion-rights measure. Based on polling, it seems likely that the amendment will get 50% of the vote, but whether it can get 60% is much more questionable.
And in the debate, a leading Issue 1 opponent, state Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said some Ohio abortion opponents might try to outlaw contraception next. Gonidakis and LaRose said that’s absurd.
“She can’t cite a piece of legislation that bans contraception,” Gonidakis said. “I don’t know who would even think about doing that. That’s ridiculous. There’s no one who has an agenda that bans contraception — it’s fear-mongering.”
LaRose referenced a Progress Action Fund ad showing a couple in bed. When the woman asks the man if he has a condom, a man in a suit appears and says “I’m your Republican congressman. Now that we’re in charge, we’re banning birth control.”
The ad was beyond the pale, LaRose said.
“There is this salacious ad that depicts a sex scene that’s being used to say people want to take away non-abortion contraceptives,” he said. “No reasonable person is talking about banning the use of contraceptives. Let’s be clear about this and stop the fear-mongering.”
LaRose reiterated that no “reasonable” people are talking about banning contraception.
“One hundred percent I can tell you that every reasonable person I know thinks that people should be able to have access to that if that’s what they choose,” he said. “It’s a moral question for some people. Some people don’t want to use it. Others do.”
However, some prominent abortion foes have raised the prospect of ending the right to contraception. The most prominent is Thomas, the Supreme Court justice.
He said so in his concurrence in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, last year’s decision overturning the right under the U.S. Constitution to get an abortion.
“… in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote. “Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous.’”
“Griswold,” refers to Griswold v Connecticut, a 1965 ruling saying that an 1879 Connecticut law banning contraception was unconstitutional.
Thomas is not alone. In the wake of last year’s Dobbs decision, Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt — a Republican from Clermont County who earlier said that rape was ugly, but an “opportunity” for women — said she would consider a contraception ban.
“That’s another issue for another day and I’m going to have to listen to both sides of the debate,” Schmidt told a Cincinnati radio host, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The offices of LaRose and Gonidakis didn’t respond when asked whether the two Issue 1 supporters believe Thomas and Schmidt and Click are not “reasonable” people.
LaRose’s office was also asked about the secretary of state’s use of the phrase “non-abortion contraceptives.” Was he saying that he regarded some common forms of contraception “abortion” and therefore should be outlawed?
LaRose’s spokesman, Tom Nichols, didn’t respond.
This story was published earlier by the Ohio Capital Journal, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix.
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