By Sue Botos
Rocky River is often considered a Republican stronghold, but last week the city’s Democratic Club, along with those of other Westshore cities, hosted a forum of state Democratic leaders, at the city civic center, which urged voters to use the ballot as the ultimate weapon against what they called the Republican Party’s “War on Women.”
A panel, consisting of District 13 state Rep. Nickie Antonio; Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio; Gary Dougherty, legislative director of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio; and Debbie Kline, coordinator of Cleveland Area Jobs With Justice, was moderated by Cynthia Dempsey, chair of the Cuyahoga Democratic Women’s Caucus. The theme of the discussion centered on the Democratic Party’s expressed belief that women’s rights, particularly those in the area of health care, are being set back by the Republican-controlled state legislature. Panel members stressed that the only way to right these wrongs was to be visible, vocal and vote for like-minded candidates.
“The war on women has been going on since cavemen dragged us by our hair,” stated Kline, who gave some highlights of the struggle for women’s rights.
“Women are still fighting to get equal pay,” she stated, noting that in 1963, female workers were receiving 59 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Today, that amount is 77 cents for every dollar. “At this rate, it will take us 59 years to catch up to what men are earning,” she said.
Antonio, who is serving her first term in the Statehouse, said her welcome involved “holding the (locked) door open so the people could come into their house to protest Issue 2. That was the start of my term.” Issue 2, which was eventually defeated, was proposed to limit the collective bargaining power of unions.
“In the 1970s, if you would have told me we’d be sitting here talking about contraception and women’s health (as an) issue of access, I wouldn’t have believed it,” stated the former Lakewood councilwoman.
Referring to several bills placed before the state legislature the group said would be detrimental to women receiving healthcare and interfere with doctor-patient confidentiality, Antonio remarked, “The legislature is practicing medicine without a license. We will not tolerate it, and we will continue to have this discussion.”
Dougherty, who admitted that he is usually “easy to pick out in a crowd” of those speaking about women’s rights, outlined one of the most controversial pieces of state legislation, the so-called “Heartbeat Bill,” which would make abortion illegal from the moment a fetal heartbeat can be detected. This can happen anywhere between 18 days and six weeks, which Dougherty said is long before many women realize they are pregnant. Calling the measure an “extreme ban,” he warned, “There are others coming behind it that are even more extreme.”
He also noted that the bill passed the House last year by only four votes. “Quickly, it’s getting to the point where even those who don’t agree with us feel this is going too far,” he stated, adding that “pro-choice bills have not received the hearings and attention anti-choice, anti-women bills have gotten.”
“I’ve been around the Statehouse for 26 years, and I’ve never seen an environment like this,” he added.
Addressing many people’s ambivalence when it comes to casting their ballot, Copeland told the group, “You have to understand how critical voting is. It impacts our lives and our future.” She added that a presidential vote is especially critical because the president controls nominations to the Supreme Court. “If we lose the Supreme Court Roe (v. Wade) is gone, other civil rights are gone, union rights are gone. The No. 1 most effective thing is to vote.”
She offered several suggestions for getting the message across, including support of pro-choice organizations through financial contributions, petition signing, social media and rally attendance. She said that one reason the “Heartbeat Bill” has stalled is due to a strong negative social media campaign. “We have to break down the stigma. They can only keep after us if we act ashamed. Stay stronger a day longer,” she said.