House Speaker calls local reps’ plan to undermine Issue 1 non-starter

At contentious town hall meeting, residents spar with state legislator about abortion rights

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Republican leadership in the Ohio House on Tuesday dismissed a local representative’s plan to weaken the state’s abortion-rights constitutional amendment approved by voters this month by removing jurisdiction from the Ohio Supreme Court.

Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, was asked by reporters Tuesday morning if he considered the proposal to be “serious legislation.”

“No. We believe in the constitution and the three branches of government. Whatever that was... This is Schoolhouse Rock type stuff and we need to make sure we hit the three branches of government. The Constitution is what we abide by,” Stephens said.

The speaker’s blunt assessment of the proposal telegraphs that getting such a bill to and through committee — let alone a floor vote — would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

It was originally backed by state Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, along with three other House Republicans, including Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia. The group maintained that Ohio courts’ jurisdiction is entirely granted or denied by the Ohio General Assembly, and that “a one-page statute denying court jurisdiction over Issue 1 is enough” to stop the state’s abortion-rights amendment from nullifying restrictive abortion laws in Ohio, according to a text Gross sent this news organization last week.

Gross’ proposal has faced heated opposition, leading the lawmaker to call the police before a town hall meeting in her district Monday evening. She told West Chester police she worried there could be issues at the meeting because of what she was going to discuss.

In West Chester Twp., Gross addressed the plan to introduce a bill to remove any court’s ability to throw out existing law, like Ohio’s six-week abortion ban, and consolidate power to review reproduction-related law in the Ohio Legislature.

In Ohio, Issue 1 passed by a wide margin of 57% to 43% last week. In Butler County, the measure passed by a margin of 50.63% to 49.37%. Gross said at the meeting on Monday she wasn’t sure voters knew what they were voting for.

With a few dozen people packed into a small room, it did become contentious. During a debate, Gross asked a resident whether she voted to “rip baby’s arms off.” In a tweet after the meeting, Gross thanked people for coming.

West Chester Twp. spokeswoman Barb Wilson said Gross did not file a formal complaint with police. In the phone call before the meeting, Wilson said Gross did not report a specific threat.

“West Chester Police on patrol last night were aware of the town hall meeting and could have been called for assistance if needed,” Wilson said.

Gross did not respond to a voicemail and text message from this news outlet on Tuesday. Emails to her campaign and legislative accounts also were not immediately returned.

Election results will not be finalized until Nov. 28.

Cox First Media partner WCPO contributed to this report.