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Ohio Rally Pushes Women’s Health, Abortion Rights

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File photo of pro-choice demonstrators. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

File photo of pro-choice demonstrators. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Participants from around the state and nation gathered at a Statehouse rally on Wednesday opposing Ohio laws that limit access to abortions and other women’s health care.

Organizers of the “We Won’t Go Back” event take issue with funding cuts to Planned Parenthood as well as abortion-related restrictions placed on Ohio’s publicly funded hospitals and on counselors at taxpayer-funded rape crisis centers.

Two Ohio clinics offering abortions have recently closed and a third, in Toledo, is expected to close in the next six months as a result of the changes.

“This was done in a trick maneuver and it’s very important that women rally and fix it,” said Feminist Majority Foundation President Ellie Smeal, one of the event speakers. “This has to be changed. Women’s lives and their health care can’t be made a political football like this.”

What Smeal calls a “trick maneuver” was the last-minute addition of several abortion-related provisions to the state budget, not leaving time for debate. Several of the proposals, including Planned Parenthood defunding, had been extensively debated earlier as separate bills.

Smeal said in a telephone interview ahead of the event that she hopes the rally will show the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature that Ohio women oppose the closure of clinics that provide inexpensive services including pap smears, birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and abortions.

The president of Ohio Right to Life predicted the event would do little to sway opinions on abortion.

“It’s a political stunt. It’s nothing more than a charade,” Mike Gonidakis said. “It won’t move the needle at all in the state.”

Gonidakis said Ohio has a history of preventing public money from being spent on abortions and of enacting tough laws against the procedure, including a late-term abortion ban.

Smeal will be joined at the podium Wednesday by National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill, Catholics for Choice domestic program director Sara Hutchinson and the state directors of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

The groups, joined by legislative Democrats, have sought with mixed success to raise the profile of the women’s health care debate in Ohio in the wake of the abortion-related budget changes.

Their latest effort comes on the heels of an annual state report that shows slightly more abortions were logged in Ohio last year than in 2011, marking the first increase in more than a decade.

The Department of Health says 25,473 abortions were reported in 2012. That’s about 700 more than in 2011, when the number hit its lowest level since the data-tracking started in 1976. The number had decreased annually between 2000 and 2011.

The report doesn’t speculate on reasons for the latest year-to-year increase. Most patients last year were Ohio residents, with about a third between ages 20 to 24.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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