THE AKRON BEACON JOURNAL
By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS, Ohio: Believing state legislators were solely responsible for abortion restrictions added to the 2013 budget bill, activists and editorialists across Ohio called on Gov. John Kasich to veto the provisions. What they didn’t know at the time was that Kasich’s office had a hand in developing some of the language.
Among other things, the provisions required abortion clinics to have emergency-transfer agreements with hospitals, prevented public hospitals from joining those agreements and strengthened the state health director’s authority to refuse exceptions. The combination contributed to clinic closures or near-closures in several cities.
Although it’s not uncommon for a governor’s office to help draft legislation, in this case Kasich — now a Republican presidential contender — had presented himself publicly as uninvolved and neutral as the legislative provisions emerged.
But Kasich aides began helping hone some of that language about 18 months before it emerged publicly, according to internal emails obtained by an abortion provider and given to The Associated Press last month. The governor’s office confirmed the emails’ authenticity.
Kasich’s Cabinet secretary, Tracy Intihar, received and made changes to an early draft of legislation codifying Ohio’s rules for outpatient surgery centers, which include abortion clinics, from late 2011 to mid-2012, the emails show. Two other Kasich staffers, legislative liaison Ben Kaiser and attorney Diane Brey, also were involved, as was Ohio Right to Life.
When asked this month about the AP’s findings, Kasich spokesman Joe Andrews said the governor’s office didn’t initiate the amendments, which emerged as Kasich and fellow Republicans in the Legislature were under pressure to pass a bill that would have imposed the most stringent abortion restrictions proposed in any state at the time.
“Providing feedback on proposed or contemplated legislation, and especially on issues that are complex, is very common for state agencies and the governor’s office,” he said.
Andrews said Intihar, the Cabinet secretary, played an advisory role after the administration learned John Adams, at the time a Republican state representative from Sidney, was working to overhaul Ohio law on the surgical centers.
The records show Intihar helped Adams incorporate the “more stringent” of certain provisions into the final draft — a task Andrews said was Adams’ idea, not Kasich’s.
The provisions weren’t part of the budget Kasich unveiled in February 2013. As they were added during votes from April to June of that year, public outcry intensified.
“They’ve gone too far, governor. Use your veto pen,” read a headline on an editorial in the Akron Beacon Journal.
Asked by an attendee at a Bowling Green forum in June 2013 whether he would veto the provisions, Kasich maintained an air of neutrality.
“First of all, I’m pro-life, so we’ll have to see how this proceeds through the House and Senate and the conference committee,” he said in a quote redistributed by NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. “Then I’ll make a decision on that as to whether I think it goes too far, but keep in mind I’m pro-life.”
Brenda Erickson, an analyst for the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, said the public typically knows who’s writing a piece of legislation but not always its source.
“Because legislatures can get ideas from anywhere — lobbyists, state agencies, the governor, other states, citizens — you often do not know what forces are driving these bills,” she said.
Sandy Theis, executive director of the liberal policy group ProgressOhio, said Kasich had a political reason to conceal any role his office played.
“Gov. Kasich intentionally hid the pivotal role he played in Ohio’s assault on reproductive rights,” she said. “He did this because he knows Ohio remains a pro-choice state and he does not want to be held accountable for his actions.”