In the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Ohio Governor John Kasich is definitely what Saul Bellow called a “contrast gainer.” He doesn’t make nasty dick jokes or relish attacks on protesters or insult the other candidates with stupid nicknames, much less insult their wives or talk about blood flowing from women’s wherevers. To the apparent astonishment of his colleagues in Ohio and Washington, who recall an intemperate shouter and player of political hardball, he comes across as genial, warm and not crazy. Not crazy is good! It hasn’t garnered him many votes—for Republican primary voters crazy is the best—but it’s won him plenty of goodwill from the shell-shocked media. Imagine: He believes in climate change, he accepted the Medicaid expansion, and he’s spoken of his concern for the unfortunate, the “people in the shadows.” That’s more than enough to make him accepted at 538.com as a possible “moderate backstop” (Nate Silver), “consummate moderate” (Clare Malone) and “moderate Republican who talks down to other Republicans” (Harry Enten), not to mention at The Washington Post (“a moderate, or, worse, a RINO”) and ABC. The New York Times, while acknowledging he is “no moderate,” praised him as a compromiser and “not an extremist” in an editorial urging Republicans to vote for him in the Iowa primary. In advance of next week’s Wisconsin primary, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has endorsed him, mentioning his independence, leadership, pragmatism, and experience. It’s as if someone has to play the calm-centrist-conservative role now that Jeb Bush, the original actor in the part, has left the stage.
But come on, pundits and editors. Do moderates defund public education and blast public-sector unions? And since when does moderate mean “one who does everything in his power to destroy women’s reproductive rights”? When you call him a moderate, what you’re really saying is that these issues doesn’t count when you’re filling out your scorecard. To focus on his attack on women’s health: Are we all so used to the notion that over a million women a year should be forced to give birth, no matter what, or seek illegal procedures? Is Texas the new normal?
Actually, Ohio under Kasich is a lot like the Lone Star State. Since becoming governor in 2011, Kasich has signed every anti-abortion measure placed before him—17 so far. He signed a bill that severely limits abortion access after 20 weeks and approved a ban on state-funded rape-crisis counselors’ referring clients to abortion services or even informing them of their right to end their pregnancy, even though he claims to support a rape exception. He signed a requirement that patients have (and pay for) an unnecessary ultrasound to test for a fetal heartbeat and be asked whether they want to listen to it (after they’re read a mandatory script written by anti-choice state legislators). He appointed to the state medical board the head of Ohio Right to Life, Michael Gonidakis, who is not a doctor. (But then neither is Richard Hodges, director of the state department of health, who is a former turnpike inspector.) In February, he signed a bill depriving Planned Parenthood of $1.3 million in state and federal funding, including funds for a program to curb infant mortality. Pro-life!
The most important anti-choice measure Kasich signed, though, was one quietly included in the 2013 state budget requiring abortion clinics to have a transfer agreement with a local hospital. Transfer agreements serve no legitimate purpose, since any hospital has to see patients on an emergency basis—and such emergencies are extremely rare in the case of abortion anyway. Like the Texas laws currently before the Supreme Court, the point is to make abortion practice impossible: Catholic hospitals won’t enter into such an arrangement, and public hospitals are legally barred from doing so. This seemingly innocuous requirement, supposedly to preserve women’s health and safety, has resulted in the closing of half the clinics in Ohio.
“Texas was more dramatic because it was so public,” Chrisse France, director of Cleveland’s Preterm Clinic, told me when we spoke by phone. “Wendy Davis brought a lot of national attention to what was going on in the state legislature, and the closing of clinics was so swift. In Ohio it’s happened more slowly. Clinics tried to get transfer agreements and then one by one gave up when they realized the state would never let it happen.” Then too, France pointed out, since his first year in office, when he openly pushed anti-choice policies, Kasich has worked more subtly, through provisions inserted into budgets, which he simply does not veto. The same 2013 budget that contained the legislature’s rejection of the Medicaid expansion, which he vetoed to tremendous acclaim from liberals also contained several anti-abortion measures that he let stand. And the beat goes on: “I feel like every day there’s some new challenge to abortion access. If they continue to close clinics, we’ll start to see women doing them on their own, as is happening in Texas.”
Right now Kasich is a longer than long shot to win the nomination, but he happens to be the only candidate pollsters give a chance of defeating Hillary Clinton, so who knows what will happen if no one comes to the convention with enough delegates to win on the first ballot? Does Kasich present a danger to women if he were to gain the White House? I asked France. “Oh my God, yes! With Cruz or Trump you know what you’re going to get, but Kasich flies under the radar.” So far it seems to be working. If you want to be a reactionary, sometimes it helps to be a moderate. Or at least play one on TV.
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Put on your (imaginary) bowling shoes and break out the (imaginary) beer! There’s a very concrete way you can help women overcome the many barriers to accessing abortion care: Donate to one of the many local funds competing to raise money in the National Network of Abortion funds Bowlathon. Even a small contribution will help give a low-income woman the freedom wealthier women in pro-choice states too often take for granted. As you probably know, restrictions and the closing of clinics in the face of laws intended to do just that have ratcheted up the cost: Besides the procedure itself, which most states won’t cover through Medicaid, there’s travel, lost wages, childcare, and often a hotel room. A $500 procedure—hard enough for low-income women to come up with—can end up costing much more. Please consider donating to one of Ohio’s two funds. Just go here:
Preterm Access Fund
Women Have Options
I’ll also be bowling for the New York Abortion Access Fund, you can donate here.