Chants of "women's rights, human rights!" and "Our bodies belong to us, not you!" echoed off the walls of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus Apr. 28, as hundreds rallied, demanding an end the Republican "War on Women." This was one of many such events organized nationwide by the newly launched grassroots organization UniteWomen.
"You are standing on historic ground," stated Brian Rothenburg, Director of Progress Ohio. "96 years ago today, thousands of women stood right here, without the right to vote, with no health care, no voice and no rights; they came to this building and stated that 'they are Americans, too!' Because they fought, we have a voice today. But the heirs of those who barred women from voting then are again trying to take our votes away, take our rights to health care away. We stand here united to say again: We are Americans, too, and we won't go back!"
Eleven separate bills aimed at restricting women's access to reproductive health care have been proposed in the Ohio legislature since Jan. 2011, and four have been signed into law by Republican Gov. John Kasich, said Jaime Miracle of NARAL. A bill proposed this month would defund Planned Parenthood, effectively removing access to cancer screenings and prenatal care for many thousands of Ohio women.
"Planned Parenthood is where I found out I was pregnant," said Marie Hlavin, standing with her 6-year old daughter. "It is where I've been able to get health care, and they are trying to shut it down. That's wrong!" She also found a lump on her breast on a visit to the agency. "While it was negative, just think of all the women who wouldn't find out until it was too late if they close Planned Parenthood."
Nancy Pitts of Women Have Options blasted Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for saying he hopes to "get rid of Planned Parenthood," despite the devastating consequences for the health of working class women across the country.
The right to abortion has been severely restricted by Ohio legislators, she added. Low-income women are hardest hit by the restrictions because of the 24-hour wait rule and the fact that 91 percent of Ohio counties have zero providers.
"Republicans are trying to take away rights that we've already fought for and won," said Donna O'Connell, a Dublin teacher and candidate for Representative in the 21st District. "I just couldn't sit back and let that happen! We shouldn't have to fight again for the rights our mothers and grandmothers already have won!"
At the edge of the statehouse rally tables were set up with petitions against a voter suppression bill, for a neutral body to do redistricting, against growing gun violence and supporting a measure to permit recall of state officials.
Ohio state senator Charletta Tavares told the crowd, "We have to unite and elect more women and men who will allow women to be free citizens."
"The Republicans were elected calling for jobs, but have passed eight bills attacking women's health care, and refuse to do anything about jobs," said State Representative Mike Stinziano.
"They are really afraid of us," said Chyrstal Obiukwu, a Junior Social Work student at Ohio State University. "The reason they are passing legislation attacking women's rights is because they are trying to take away our ability to be involved in public life. They will not succeed!"
As the crowd chanted, "We won't go away!" the rally ended just as a storm brought thunder and hail to the statehouse steps.
Photo: Anita Waters