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An empowered electorate will face choices in 2022 election, candidates face reckoning

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COLUMBUS, OH — MAY 14: Hundreds gather at a rally to support abortion rights less than two weeks after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion showed a likely reversal of Roe v. Wade, May 14, 2022, at the Ohio Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal.)

After the 2016 election, shellshocked women braced for the worst. A crude misogynist – and direct threat to reproductive, civil and human rights–was poised to make the next four years a living hell. The day after he was inaugurated president, more than four million women (and men) hit the streets in massive marches to decry the promotion of a vile sexual predator over a highly qualified public servant.

Millions more joined their American sisters around the globe. It was the largest, single-day protest in U.S. history. The wall-to-wall outrage from D.C. to L.A. was driven by a burning resolve to resist. Jan. 21, 2017, was not a one-off. Women harnessed the energy of the moment to organize, mobilize and sustain resistance to the blatant misogyny and bad policy to come.

Their work paid off a year later with a record-breaking number of women winning seats in Congress and Democrats flipping control of the House with historic voter turnout. Women didn’t just contribute to the blue wave in 2018, they fueled it.

They will also power the outcome of the 2022 midterms. But unlike four years ago, this election won’t be a referendum on a loathsome president and his punishing health care policies. It will be about choice. Voters will choose between extreme and mainstream. Between pro-democracy candidates and election deniers. Between bodily autonomy and none.

For many women, the worst they feared is here. Right-wing ideologues on the U.S. Supreme Court obliterated half a century of constitutionally protected abortion rights because they could. They threw out 50 years of legal precedent and abruptly reduced women to government-regulated breeders.

Stripping women of rights nationwide is a top Republican priority. Radical politicians rushed to pile on with forced-birth mandates, cementing the dehumanization of women. Former Vice President Mike Pence called it “profoundly more important than any short-term politics” and Sen. Lindsey Graham promised a federal ban on abortion if his party won control of the Senate. Ohio Republicans implemented a near-total abortion ban in the state (which has since been temporarily suspended) the same day Roe was overturned.

In Ohio, the Republican-dominated legislature plans to pass an even more extreme abortion ban following the Nov. 8 election. The Republican governor, running for re-election, will sign whatever draconian anti-woman measure lawmakers send him. Mike DeWine has already boasted he’d “go as far as we can” to eliminate the reproductive rights of Ohio women and 10-year-old rape victims.

“DeWine has done more harm to people who need abortion care or family planning than any single person in the state of Ohio,” said Pro-Choice Ohio executive director Kellie Copeland.

But he’s hoping you won’t notice. Like scores of other Republicans on the ballot, the once adamantly “pro-life” politician has swiftly pivoted away from that stance to aggressively downplay his anti-choice bona fides.

DeWine refuses to debate or defend the ramifications of the severe law he signed outlawing abortion without exception. His campaign, endorsed by a disgraced, twice-impeached loser, dwells instead on jobs, crime and down-hominess – not the fact that Ohio women are cruelly denied abortion care in the state because of the governor.

So far, his duck and cover distractions to cancelling reproductive rights is working. The Republican incumbent has a double-digit lead over his Democratic opponent.

In the race for Ohio’s open U.S. Senate seat, it’s a virtual tie between candidates but abortion overshadows the outcome. The next senator could be a decisive vote on a bill to criminalize abortion for all American women regardless of where they live. Republican J.D. Vance has twisted himself into a pretzel changing positions on a federal abortion ban, but his remarks, from a recently surfaced podcast interview done earlier this year, were bizarrely revealing.

“Let’s say Roe v. Wade is overruled. Ohio bans abortion in 2022-let’s say 2024. Then every day, George Soros sends a 747 to Columbus to load up disproportionately Black women to get them to go have abortions in California. Of course, the left will celebrate this as a victory for diversity…If that happens, do you need some federal response to prevent it from happening because it’s really creepy? I’m pretty sympathetic to that, actually.”

Way to roll racism, antisemitism and sexism in one to justify a national prohibition on abortion. Vance is evasive about Graham’s Handmaid’s Tale proposition, but his contortions on banishing abortion nationwide do not invite trust. He says states should decide when women must carry a pregnancy to term (certainty not the women themselves) but there are still 49 days in the campaign. When the violent marriage apologist turned Trump sycophant appears with Graham next month, he might hail a national abortion ban.

Look, Republicans running for legislative, statewide and federal offices know their extremism on abortion is not supported by a majority of their would-be constituents. So, they will run and hide and obfuscate on their extreme anti-choice records. Expect ambiguous, cagey answers to questions about their intentions to control women and outlaw abortion while they present as non-threatening family guys in vests.

But nothing motivates women to create a tidal wave of dissent like ripping away half a century of reproductive freedom and self-determination. No candidate gets a pass on abortion from dehumanized voters fiercely resolved to harness the anger and urgency of the moment that began with a march.


Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.

This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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