It seems like pro-abortion lawmakers have a new tradition – introducing sneaky efforts to criminalize peaceful, pro-life exercise of the first amendment rights to speech and freedom of religion - behavior guaranteed by the US an Ohio constitutions, just days before the Memorial Day Holiday. Today Ohio introduced HB 234, an(other) unconstitutional effort to criminalize behavior that might annoy someone working at, owning, or seeking care at a “reproductive services” clinic (aka the broadest terminology they can find without using the word “abortion” clinic).
Side note – why do pro-abortion lawmakers and advocates shy away from actually using the word “abortion?”
If this seems too familiar, it is because the language is verbatim (or nearly so) to a law proposed last year by members of the Columbus City Council. A law that was so blatantly unconstitutional that the ACLU of Ohio joined groups like Greater Columbus Right to Life and the Diocese of Columbus in opposing the local proposed law.
There are a few things to note about the proposal. The first is that it is unlikely to go anywhere beyond a mandatory first hearing in a committee – something that is extended to every piece of legislation. That, however, does not mean that we will not respond as a community and a movement.
The next thing to know about the proposed law is that it has one chief distinction from the proposed Columbus statute – it purports to make the penalty for violation of the law on second or subsequent offenses a fourth degree felony. This means that yes, you could be charged with a fourth degree felony (carrying a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of $5000) for praying on the public sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic if it is found to be annoying. Note that this would also potentially apply to non-pro life speech as well. For example, if a medical facility that provided reproductive services were in a labor dispute and employees were picketing or doing anything that met the bill’s requirements (including annoying someone), that person could also be charged. Other fourth degree felonies in Ohio include unlawful sexual conduct with a minor (irony alert), vehicular assault, aggravated assault, engaging in prostitution after a positive HIV test, grand theft auto, arson, and money laundering to support terrorism when the money laundered is less than $25,000.
We sometimes say that “prayer is our weapon,” but really – does any reasonable person think that it should be possible for someone to be praying on the public sidewalks in front of an abortion clinic deserve to be lumped in with that kind of criminal activity?
A third thing that you should know is that the actual criminal behaviors included in this bill – the ones that would unequivocally get a GCRTL volunteer asked to stop working with us – are already illegal on a myriad of state and federal laws. To save some time, here is a link to where we discussed this in the past, and as a recent example here is what happened when a group blocked clinic access just a few weeks ago in a stand against abortion.
A fourth thing that you should know is that this bill grants a right of privacy to someone filing a lawsuit against a pro-life person that is not statutorily available in Ohio’s courts to women fleeing abusive partners or rape victims.
The fifth thing that you should know about this bill is that the sponsors include two central Ohio lawmakers, Representatives Kristin Boggs and Bernadine Kenedy Kent.
In the next day or so, we will update this information to include how you can contact local lawmakers to share with them your concern on this proposed legislation. You may recall that when Columbus City Council tried this last year, we stepped up, led the fight, and got them to amend their proposal out of existence.
We do not get involved in politics much, because our IRS designation makes that difficult. But when a piece of legislation like this seeks to make our very work illegal and targets rights of religious conscience and the right to free speech, we have to join together as a community. Just under a year ago, we delivered more than 10,000 postcards and letters to members of City Hall. Stay tuned, because we will do it again if we need to.
In the interim, say a prayer for religious freedom – here where the threats are more incremental and across the world where the crisis is great. If you can send a few extra dollars to help us fight back this attack, we’d appreciate that. You can donate online, by sending a check to our office (665 E Dublin Granville Rd, st 115; Columbus, OH 43229) or by joining us for our annual banquet in just a little over two weeks’ time.