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Total abortion ban hearing at Ohio Statehouse gets unsurprisingly heated

State rep. Richard Brown, a Democrat from Canal Winchester, asks a witness to give him an answer.
Posted at 6:15 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 18:38:00-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A committee hearing for the latest effort in banning abortion started with a warning on Thursday at the Ohio Statehouse.

That warning, which came from committee Chair Shane Wilkin, a Republican from Hillsboro, noted that both witnesses and lawmakers needed to maintain "decorum" and treat the others with respect. Noting that it was a passionate and emotional topic, he did say that they would have security boot people out for disrupting the hearing.

This warning would foreshadow the rest of the day.

Thursday was the first day the public could give testimony on the Human Life Protection Act. House Bill 598 was sponsored by state Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican from Loveland. This is a trigger ban, meaning if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Ohio would ban abortion without exceptions for rape or incest.

There are two amendments to the bill since the first hearing. One was to change the wording in the bill from “person” to “woman.” Another was that an ectopic pregnancy was listed as an affirmative defense.

The debate over what was actually an exception and what was an affirmative defense continued from the last hearing to this one. For this purpose, an affirmative defense is "a defense involving an excuse or justification peculiarly within the knowledge of the accused, on which he can fairly be required to adduce supporting evidence," according to the Office of the Ohio Public Defender.

CLICK OR TAP HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT WHAT IS IN THE BILL

Only ten bill supporters were allowed to give testimony for this hearing. The opponents will be giving testimony in the near future.

One of those invited was Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life.

"We're better here in the Buckeye State," Gonidakis said. "We believe with the pregnancy centers, the federally qualified community health centers, Medicaid expansion, and all the safety opportunities we provide for good health care in Ohio, we can help women make an informed decision and choose life."

Opponents did show up to watch, though. Maggie Scotece, interim executive director of Women Have Options Ohio, disagreed with Gonidakis, saying that this bill takes away the ability for someone to choose life — by making it the only option.

"All abortion bans are violence, all abortion plans are class warfare and all abortion bans are racist," Scotece said. "We're going to speak out against all of them."

While only supporters spoke, the questions were mainly asked by the Democrats, with each of them focusing broadly on one topic.

While representatives had to go to other hearings, Democratic Reps. Richard Brown, from Canal Winchester, Paula Hicks-Hudson, from Toledo, and Mike Skindell, from Lakewood, controlled the hearing for much of the time.

Brown focused on the lack of rape and incest exemption, Hicks-Hudson on combating the "option of choice" and Skindell on religious freedom.

Many of the witness testimonies held the same concepts: Ohio is better than allowing abortion and abortion is murder.

"Ohio must draw a hard line about abortion: it kills children and creates a society that is actively antagonistic to women and our biology," Allie Frazier, executive director of Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, said.

During the previous hearing on April 27, Brown brought up a hypothetical 13-year-old girl who was raped by a relative. In a heated debate, Brown and Schmidt argued about the teen victim and if she should be able to get an abortion.

Schmidt had said that rape is a difficult issue.

"It's a shame that it happens, but there's an opportunity for that woman, no matter how young or old she is," she said. "She can choose to raise the child, she can choose to give that child to a loving family member or to give it to someone else — and that child can grow up and be something magnificent, a wonderful family person, cure cancer," she said. "Just because you have emotional scars doesn't give you the right, right to take the life."

Brown followed up, upset with her answer.

"You earlier said every life is important — the life of a 13-year-old girl in my hypothetical is important," he added. "I think this girl has rights every bit as much as the zygote that has rights under your bill. This girl has rights, and I don't believe we can lose sight of the rights of the person who was raped."

Her comments caused backlash across the country, making national news. On Thursday, Brown brought up his hypothetical teen again to the witnesses.

"So you're okay with no rape, no incest exception correct?" Brown asked Frazier.

The answer was hard to get. Brown started getting frustrated he couldn't get a yes or no answer, to which Frazier told him she clearly needed to "explain" the bill to him — which seemed to make him even more annoyed.

"Two lefts don't make a right," she said. "Sexual assault is a terrible crime that is perpetuated against a woman; abortion creates a new victim."

When Frazier asked again, she said bodily autonomy is not absolute.

Bringing the same question to Gonidakis, he asked for Schmidt to speak for herself.

"What we would submit is that an opportunity to live far out exceeds an opportunity to die or to be killed," he added. "We believe every life, whether you're a male, female, black or white, gay or straight, you have the inherent right to life and live your God-given potential regardless of how you come into this world. So we support everybody, regardless if you're Democrat or Republican, you have the right to live in the great United States of America."

When asked by News 5 to clarify if he agreed with her or not, Gonidakis said the comments were taken out of context.

"I think her comments were taken out of context," he said. "If you listen to her entire testimony, I agree with her entire testimony. If you take one five-second snippet that's taken out of context — you can't agree or disagree with that. But overall, what she said and what she meant as she's followed up and said is an opportunity to live far out, sees an opportunity to die or be killed."

Scotece and pro-choice supporters think Schmidt meant what she said.

"That's obviously deeply offensive," Scotece said. "We don't consider rape or sexual assault to be an opportunity at any point in time. But we also know that people shouldn't be sexually assaulted or raped to be able to have bodily autonomy."

Brown, a passionate supporter of reproductive rights, also brought up factual inaccuracies in Frazier's responses to him about affirmative defense versus exception. The two went back and forth in a contentious debate, interrupting each other, about whether adding ectopic pregnancies was an exception to the rule.

"I think when we're talking about the way that this bill is structured, it's really, it's really important to be clear why it's structured the way that is structured—" Frazier started.

"Excuse me, I would ask that the witness answer the question, please, and not go on diatribe, which is unrelated to the question entirely. The question can be answered yes or no. And I would request to answer the question," Brown said, interrupting.

"To the representative, I need to explain this clearly because I think that it's important for us to explain it clearly — so that's what I'm going to do for you. Here's what this bill does, right, this bill ensures that if it is deemed that a woman's life is in danger, and we are able to save that woman."

It got more tense after a slight warning to Brown from Wilkin.

"The reason this bill is structured the way —" Frazier started.

"That's not the question," Brown said, interrupting her.

"Ranking Member Brown, let's be respectful of the witness," Wilkin said.

"I would like the witness to be respectful of my question as well. I deserve an answer to the question, not a soliloquy about an unrelated issue. The answer to the question —" Brown started.

"Ranking Member Brown, as we go through this, we're going to be respectful both ways. I know this is a passionate and emotional issue," Wilkin said.

The chair continued.

"I think you will get to an answer and clarify your answer but do the best to keep it direct, as direct as you can, because we have seven more witnesses to get through," Wilkin said to Frazier. "But let's make sure we're going through the chair and not interrupting each other, and so you may respond."

In the previous hearings, state Rep. Dr. Beth Liston, a Democrat from Dublin, made the same argument as Brown about affirmative defense.

"How I read this is that a physician could defend themselves against a murder charge with what's called an affirmative defense, in the case of it being life-threatening if they follow provisions A, B, C, D, E and F, which includes a lot of different things, made a lot of documentation, a lot of provisions on what's available at a facility," the doctor said. "Physicians cannot terminate a pregnancy — period. They can defend themselves from it, from a charge in the setting of life-threatening complications if they follow these specific steps."

State Rep. Tim Ginter, a Republican from Columbiana County, chimed in, asking Frazier some questions in which she was easily able to give yes or no answers to. Brown brought this up.

"In response to the questions on this side, we cannot get a yes or no answer," Brown said. "We get a soliloquy, we get an explanation to a question we didn't ask, and I just think that's a little disingenuous on your part, frankly, and I'm a little offended.

"I must admit I'm a little upset and offended because I believe that I have the right to ask these questions and that you have an obligation, since you're a witness, to directly answer my questions," Brown said. "I don't feel you have done that, and I think that's unfair. You answer his questions directly. You should answer mine directly."

The opponents will get time to speak to the lawmakers in early June, according to legislators.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.