COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Opponents of abortion protections hurriedly inserted in Ohio's state budget are exploring legal challenges and the possibility of forcing lawmakers to vote again on the provisions, the Democratic challenger to Gov. John Kasich said Thursday.
Funding cuts to Planned Parenthood and abortion-related restrictions placed on publicly funded hospitals and counselors at taxpayer-funded rape crisis centers are out of step with mainstream Ohio voters, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald said.
He said that challenging the entire two-year, $62 billion state budget isn't an option but that the objectionable elements of the bill could be forced before the Republican-dominated Legislature in January through what's called an initiated statute.
"How about having the debate that was denied?" FitzGerald said at a news conference. "If Gov. Kasich and his Republican allies really believe that these extreme measures when it comes to women's health were something that the state agreed on, and that (Ohioans) believed in their position, they wouldn't have done it in the dead of night and inserted it in the 11th hour the way they did."
If the initiated statute were successful, lawmakers would have four months to approve the bill put before them without changes. If they don't, opponents could put the same legislation to voters in November 2014, when FitzGerald will face off against the Republican governor. Both steps in the process would require collecting about 118,000 signatures.
The Ohio General Assembly is in the midst of its two-year session, with strong Republican majorities in the Senate and House, which could change in the 2014 elections.
Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf said Democrats are using the abortion provisions as a way "to avoid having to talk about their failed record on jobs and the economy."
"FitzGerald wants voters to forget about the 400,000 jobs lost under the last Democratic administration and his own promise to veto $2.7 billion in tax relief," Schrimpf said.
During floor debate on the budget bill, Republican House Finance Chairman Ron Amstutz said it wasn't inappropriate to put abortion protections into a budget bill. Among the protections was a requirement that a procedure be performed to check for a detectable fetal heartbeat and that information shared with the pregnant woman before she consents to an abortion.
FitzGerald said opponents of the abortion limits are frustrated the provisions were inserted into the budget bill, which is shielded from referendum under Ohio's Constitution. He contrasted the situation to the fight in 2011 over a law limiting collective bargaining by unionized public workers that was overturned at the ballot box.
He hoped that opening a dialogue on potential ballot and legal responses might ease some anger he said he's encountered around the state.
"It's going to give people an outlet to make sure that they know that our democratic process, although it fails us sometimes - as it did in this case, there are options that we have," FitzGerald said.
He stopped short of committing his campaign or the Ohio Democratic Party as leaders of the effort, saying it will be important to have a broad coalition of interests - probably including Planned Parenthood, NARAL-Ohio and others already voicing opposition to the budget provisions - for the effort to be successful.