Conservatives have already lost the abortion argument, but they clearly don’t know it yet—or they’re simply refusing to accept it. Sounds familiar, huh? Democracy is sort of like a quaint heirloom for Republicans now. Something that was passed down by their grandmothers and sits on a shelf collecting dust—like an old music box or a set of Russian nesting dolls that’s nothing but spent, increasingly feeble Dick Cheney hearts all the way down.
And they’re proving that in spades! In the wake of yet another high-profile, red-state election loss, Ohio Republicans are again hoping to thwart the clear will of the voters by proposing even more anti-choice legislation.
For a decade, Ohio has propped up so-called “crisis pregnancy centers,” which are really just Potemkin clinics notorious for misleading women who seek abortions. In case you’re unfamiliar, imagine that Mitt Romney opened a weed dispensary in your town and wouldn’t let you leave until you snorted at least half an ounce of oregano. Now imagine it’s not weed but basic health care you’re looking for. That’s essentially the gist.
And now? Buckeye State Republicans are determined to divert even more taxpayer funds to those deception dens.
On Tuesday, the Ohio senate finance committee discussed a bill from the state senator Sandra O’Brien, a Republican, who proposed that individuals who give to “qualifying pregnancy resource centers” may be eligible for tax credits, at a cost of up to $10m to Ohio.
Anti-abortion counseling centers – which are also known as crisis pregnancy centers – offer free services to pregnant women, are frequently faith-based and aim to convince people to continue their pregnancies.
They have also been accused of attempting to mislead the people who walk through their doors. Because these centers are often located next to abortion clinics and have names like “Birth Choice” or “Woman’s Choice”, critics say they purposely lead people seeking abortions to enter them by accident and then give them inaccurate information about abortion.
Of course, The Guardian needs to use qualifying phraseology like “they have been accused of” misleading people—but that’s exactly what these places do. Indeed, that’s their raison d'être.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which was founded in 1951 and represents more than 60,000 OB-GYNs, has blown the lid off these fake clinics. The group’s 2023 brief on the centers paints a grim picture.
[Crisis pregnancy center] is a term used to refer to certain facilities that represent themselves as legitimate reproductive health care clinics providing care for pregnant people but actually aim to dissuade people from accessing certain types of reproductive health care, including abortion care and even contraceptive options. Staff members at these unregulated and often nonmedical facilities have no legal obligation to provide pregnant people with accurate information and are not subject to HIPAA or required by law to maintain client confidentiality. Many CPCs are affiliated with national organizations that provide funding, support, and training to advance a broadscale antiabortion agenda.
Data from the Center for Countering Digital Hate show that CPCs are using digital marketing tactics to target people seeking information about abortion care. According to the data, 71% of CPCs use deceptive means such as spreading thoroughly debunked misinformation and 38% do not clearly state on their home page that they do not provide abortion care. These methods make it harder for people to get reliable information about an important decision that will affect their health and their lives. By using deception, delay tactics, and disinformation, CPC staffs undermine the tenets of informed consent and patient autonomy and impede access to comprehensive, ethical care.
Pretty awful, huh? Well, this is the kind of “charity” some Ohio Republicans now want to encourage with targeted tax breaks.
Under the bill, a tax credit can be received if donors give to a “qualifying pregnancy resource center,” meaning the center has 501(c)(3) non-profit status, a “principal office or a presence” in Ohio, at least a 50% client base that “claim to be Ohio residents” and a principal purpose “to provide free or low-cost assistance” like pregnancy testing and “similar services for pregnant women carrying their pregnancies to term,” according to a Legislative Service Center analysis of the bill.
The cost to the state for these tax credits would be capped at $10 million under the bill.
Donations are eligible for a tax credit only if they go to a center that “does not perform, promote or contract with an organization that performs nontherapeutic abortions, and is not affiliated … with a person that performs or promotes nontherapeutic abortions,” according to the analysis.
Of course, Republicans have been in a snit ever since it became clear that they’re on the wrong side of history on this issue. But they’re still letting their fetus flag fly. They can’t give up on the issue, or what have the past 50 years been all about? So they’re doubling down. In fact, the day after Ohioans voted to enshrine reproductive rights in their state constitution, Republicans—who hold a supermajority in the state legislature—were already plotting to frustrate the will of their constituents.
And thanks to their grotesquely gerrymandered election maps, they might get away with it—in the short term, anyway. Yes, Ohio saw Wisconsin’s phantasmagorically gerrymandered dairyland and said, “Hold my beer.” (As someone who lived in Wisconsin for decades, I can assure you: You don’t want Wisconsin to hold your beer; you’ll never get it back.)
Fortunately, Republicans’ refusal to give up on their 50-year fetus fetish is, at least from an electoral perspective, good news for Democrats, even as it remains horrible for anyone who needs real, comprehensive reproductive health care right now.
As Daily Kos’ Joan McCarter noted on Wednesday, conservatives are all but forcing a national referendum on abortion going into 2024—and it’s unlikely to work out well for them.
The Heritage Foundation has set out an ambitious totalitarian agenda for the next Republican president, whoever it might be. Don’t think that women’s bodies are exempt from their plans, not by a long shot. They’ve been working on a plan to use a 19th-century law written to prevent women from obtaining contraceptives, allowing the next Republican administration to outlaw most abortions.
The 1873 Comstock Act prohibits the mailing of contraceptives, “lewd” writings, and any “instrument, substance, drug, medicine, or thing” that could be used in an abortion. While it’s been dormant since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Griswold v. Connecticut decision in 1965, the law is still on the books.
Now that 1873 is back in vogue, the Heritage Foundation argues that the next president can act unilaterally to do just what Kacsmaryk ordered. Comstock "unambiguously prohibits mailing abortion drugs," and a Republican president should "enforce federal law against providers and distributors of [abortion] pills."
Republicans have historically been very effective at using fear to persuade voters to their cause, whatever the eff that “cause” is. (Not sure even they know anymore.) Now we can do the same—and should. The difference is, the danger to women presented by Republicans is real. We don’t have to invent caravans of rampaging, wild-eyed forced-birthers marching on our borders. They’re already here.