The Impact of Gerrymandering on Women's Freedom & Health

The toxic effects of lopsided redistricting, cynically done to consolidate a single party's power no matter what voters want, go on and on in Ohio. The more one surveys the landscape, the more it's clear the worst choice Ohio voters made in November was to vote "No" on Issue 2, even though the confusion surrounding it made such a vote understandable.

Today, Kellie Copeland, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, sent out this email which vividly demonstrates what happens in the state legislature when the partisan balance is so out of line with how people voted.

She says,

Issue 2
Issue 2 would have created a nonpartisan board to draw the district boundaries, potentially ending the practice of politicians picking their constituents. Unfortunately, Issue 2 was plagued by confusing ballot language, placed at the end of a very long ballot, and was insufficiently funded to cut through the barrage of advertising and voter contact from the other races on the ballot. The measure lost, garnering only 37 percent of the vote.

Ohio House of Representatives

As a direct result of gerrymandering, despite receiving only 49 percent of the votes in Ohio House races across the state, anti-choice politicians hold 60 percent of the seats. Although NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio endorsed eight pro-choice incumbents for the Ohio House and eight pro-choice challengers, gerrymandering made only a few of these races competitive: out of the eight endorsed challengers, only Heather Bishoff was successful. Anti-choice lawmakers now have a super majority, allowing them to place measures directly on the ballot without having to go through the normal process of collecting hundreds of thousands of petition signatures.

Half of the seats in the Ohio Senate were up for reelection, though only one seat was competitive because of the power of gerrymandering and incumbency. Republicans targeted mixed-choice Democratic incumbent Lou Gentile; however, Gentile prevailed, preserving 10 pro-and mixed-choice members of the Senate. The remaining 23 members of the chamber are anti-choice.

After reading these legislative election results, it is clear why NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio endorsed Issue 2. Without redistricting reform, it will be nearly impossible to achieve pro-choice majorities in either chamber of the Ohio Legislature, despite the majority of Ohio voters being pro-choice.

Honestly, I'm not too worried about their ability to place controversial measures directly on the ballot, and I'm not sure why people are using this to alarm their followings. I HOPE they place measures like Right to Work for Less or "Personhood" on the ballot because they will help us sweep every statewide Republican out of office next year.

I'm more worried about what they can do in the legislature. Why bother to put "Personhood" on the ballot and get destroyed (anything that loses 60-40 in Mississippi isn't going to pass here) when you can just pass it in the legislature and have the governor sign it? Of course, if he did, he might as well just resign his office and not bother to campaign. But that would pretty much be the effect of having this on the ballot as well.

As Kellie points out, the last session of the general assembly — a tad less anti-choice than the new one — gave us mountains of new anti-woman legislation. The lame duck session wasted a bunch of time on hearings on defunding Planned Parenthood, and were threatening to take up the so-called "Heartbeat" bill again. We probably haven't seen the last of those two cruel and invasive measures, which directly attack women's health.

And of course, when the legislature has had the chance to do something that actually WOULD reduce abortions and help women give birth safely to healthy babies, what did it do?

Kellie tells us:

The Ohio Prevention First Act, sponsored by State Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), was granted a “complimentary hearing” in the Ohio House Health Committee last month, but was never given the opportunity for a vote. This bill would improve access to comprehensive sex education and to family-planning services. The act also includes the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act (CARE), which would require hospitals to provide emergency contraception care to rape survivors. The Ohio Prevention First Act is a commonsense, common-ground bill that should be supported by legislators on both sides of the abortion debate because it would prevent unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion. Unfortunately, anti-choice forces oppose this legislation while simultaneously fighting to decrease access to family planning and outlaw abortion care.

Redistricting reform is the foundation for everything else. When a state like Ohio — which almost always splits its votes somewhere close to 50/50 — is so misdistricted that its legislature represents only the far right fringe, then it's time for change.

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