CLEVELAND - "Vote! - that is the other V-word they don't want to hear," Kellie Copeland told a crowd of 150 at a forum on the War on Women here Tuesday. Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-ChoiceOhio, was referring to the sanctions Michigan Republican legislators imposed on a female colleague who used the word "vagina" during debate over a bill to restrict women's reproductive rights.
The unprecedented barrage of 16 anti-choice bills and resolutions put before the current Ohio legislature, Copeland said, is the result of the 2010 election where low voter turnout allowed a right-wing takeover of the state government.
Forty-three hearings have been held and four of the bills have already passed.
"They all have one thing in common - they all endanger women's health."
For the first time, she said, doctors are having to send their most critical care patients to New York and other states.
"For growing numbers of women, abortion may as well be illegal in Ohio."
"We have to make everyone understand how critical voting is, how it impacts everyone.
We need to talk to everyone we know personally."
This is especially true of the presidential election, she said.
"Two pro-choice Supreme Court justices are set to retire. If we lose this election Roe v. Wade is done. The same goes for union rights," Copeland, a former Midwest political director for the AFL-CIO, warned. Roe v. Wade is the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion as a protection of the right to privacy.
Copeland dismissed claims by Catholic bishops and some others that the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform, limits religious freedom by requiring insurance coverage for contraception for employees of religiously affiliated hospitals and universities.
"The real attack on religious freedom," she said, "is their attempt to impose one religious view on everyone."
Other speakers at the forum, sponsored by Democratic clubs in seven western suburbs as well as the Stonewall Democrats at the Don Umerley Civic Center in Rocky River, underscored Copeland's points.
State Rep. Nickie Antonio said the fact that access to contraception and reproductive health care, rights established in the early 1970s, are under attack today is "incredible."
GOP legislators "are trying to practice medicine without a license," she charged.
Gary Dougherty, legislative director for Ohio Planned Parenthood, said that because of the barrage of attacks, he was grateful the General Assembly is on summer recess.
Among the bills under consideration is the so-called Heartbeat bill, HB 125, that would ban abortion from the moment a fetal heartbeat is detected "before many women know they are pregnant."
"This is most extreme abortion ban under consideration in the United States," he said. "The aim is to ban abortion in Ohio." Doctors who testified against the bill said they were afraid - afraid for themselves and for their patients, Dougherty said.
The bill narrowly passed the House with a majority of only four votes as some abortion opponents, both Democrats and Republicans, opposed it as going too far, he said. A bill is also pending to defund Planned Parenthood and thereby deprive 100,000 women in Ohio of access to annual cancer screenings and family planning assistance established in Title 10 during the administration of President Richard Nixon.
Dougherty said he believes many Republicans, including possibly presidential candidate Mitt Romney, are fearful of the growing resistance to the attacks on women's rights.
"There was a massive uprising of support for Planned Parenthood, when our funding was attacked in Congress and by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation."
Debbie Kline, director of Cleveland Jobs With Justice, discussed other aspects of women's equality including current struggles over the Fair Pay Act, the Violence Against Women Act and the Equal Rights Amendment.
"The U.S, has still not signed the United Nations Convention to End Discrimination Against Women," she said. "Guess what, Afghanistan has signed but we haven't."