Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s rhetoric about some of the most vulnerable Ohioans doesn’t appear to match the reality if data released last week are any guide.
The governor has been refusing to talk about some of the most controversial aspects of strict new abortion restrictions that he signed into law in 2019 and which took effect when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade on June 24. Instead, his staff has been referring the press to comments the governor made just after he signed the law, Senate Bill 23, and just after the high court issued its decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health.
In neither speech did DeWine address the fact that S.B. 23 doesn’t make exceptions for victims of rape, people with intellectual disabilities or children who become pregnant. And while he spoke in both speeches about the importance of protecting the “vulnerable,” DeWine still hasn’t answered publicly when asked if he supports a provision in the law that forced a 10-year-old rape victim to go out of state for an abortion.
The law also requires the vast majority of women and girls to carry pregnancies to term after about six weeks of pregnancy — a point at which as many as a third don’t yet know they’re pregnant. In 2020, for example, 70% of girls and women — or more than 14,000 — who got abortions in Ohio got them after six weeks of pregnancy.
There are widespread worries that by requiring unwanted pregnancies to be carried to term, it only will add to the number of Ohio women and children living in poverty and suffering poor health outcomes. But in his June 24 speech, DeWine claimed “great progress” in helping those populations.
“I believe that all Ohioans want this state to be the most pro-family, pro-child state in the country and we are making great progress in creating an environment here in Ohio where families and children can thrive and live up to their full potential,” he said. “Though we’ve made progress, we agree that we must do more to lower our infant and maternal mortality, especially among African American mothers and babies.”
When DeWine took office at the beginning of 2019, progress needed to be made — badly.
The Ohio Department of Health reports that between 2008 and 2016, Black women in the state were two-and-a-half times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts. Meanwhile, in 2019, Black infants died at nearly three times the rate of white infants.
Blacks only make up 13% of the Ohio population, but in 2020, they had 48% of the abortions performed in the state. So it seems at least plausible that making abortions harder to get will only aggravate the disparities between Black and white maternal and infant mortality — and make such problems across all demographic groups worse.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2020, Ohio had the 10th-highest rate of infant mortality, the 19th-highest rates of teen and preterm births, the 18th-highest rate of low birthweight babies and the 16th-highest rate of babies born to unmarried mothers.
Asked what the governor was referring to when he said in June that Ohio was making great strides in solving such matters, Press Secretary Dan Teirney pointed to a five-page pamphlet titled “Ohio Bold Beginning.”
“Under Gov. Mike DeWine’s leadership, the Department of Medicaid has expanded prenatal and postnatal services to ensure more Ohio mothers will have healthy, full-term births and quality care post-birth,” one section says, describing new services such as community-based nursing, lactation consulting and health navigators.
The pamphlet describes other programs that also seem likely to help struggling mothers, such as addiction counseling and support for teen mothers who are estranged from their families. It also said the DeWine administration has created new programs to help with food, daycare and even car seats.
In addition to all that, DeWine on Tuesday issued an executive order to use $13 million in money from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to bolster food banks, newborn recovery services, adoption and other services for vulnerable mothers and children.
But as DeWine nears the end of his first term as governor, Ohio continues to decline, according to a number of indices regarding the state’s most vulnerable. The 2022 Kids Count Data Book released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation said that Ohio has fallen in every measure in which it compares states since DeWine has been governor. In addition, Ohio is now in the bottom half of states for each of the categories in which the foundation rates the states.
In terms of education, Ohio dropped from 27th in 2019 to 31st in 2022, the report said. For relative economic well-being, it fell from 16th to 28th, and the group’s rating of family and community support fell from 31st to 33rd over the same period.
Perhaps most distressingly, overall child well-being fell from 27th in 2019 to 31st this year, the report said.
This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.
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