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Ohio Democrat Takes Anti-Abortion Stance in Governor's Race

In a fundraising letter that calls him "a truly remarkable man of God," gubernatorial candidate Bill O'Neill is staking out his position as an anti-abortion candidate in the Democratic primary.

By Marty Schladen

In a fundraising letter that calls him "a truly remarkable man of God," gubernatorial candidate Bill O'Neill is staking out his position as an anti-abortion candidate in the Democratic primary.

The letter is raising eyebrows because few Democrats appeal to the anti-abortion vote, and because O'Neill caused a stir last year with a Facebook post in which he said he had slept with 50 women over the years.

"We're expanding my appeal into the pro-life community," O'Neill, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice, said Tuesday.

The Chagrin Falls resident already has taken positions intended to capture certain segments of the vote in the four-way May 8 primary. For example, he has repeatedly called for legalizing marijuana and using the proceeds to combat Ohio's opioid epidemic.

But O'Neill's stance on abortion is farther outside the Democratic mainstream -- at least in the eyes of his opponents.

"I've always stood on the side of women, who I trust to make their own medical decisions," said state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman. "I don't know why O'Neill is making this a position of his, but it's his decision. We'll see how it works out."

O'Neill's position on abortion has some nuance. He acknowledges that he's "a man who will never have to make an abortion decision," and on the Supreme Court, he held that some Ohio abortion laws place an undue burden on a woman's right to an abortion.

He explains that, as a state Supreme Court justice, he was bound by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that says women have a constitutional guarantee of access to abortion.

But that doesn't mean that O'Neill agrees with the ruling. "I think it's wrongly decided, there's no question," he said.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio struck back at O'Neill's stance in a statement on Wednesday morning. "Once a woman has made the decision to end a pregnancy, she needs access to safe and legal abortion care in her community. Any candidate for governor, regardless of political affiliation, who doesn't respect her decision is unfit to lead the state of Ohio."

As for his 50-lovers Facebook post, O'Neill apologized for writing it. On Tuesday, he emphasized that he's been faithful within the bonds of marriage.

"But before that, I was a child of the '60s and '70s when I got back from Vietnam," O'Neill said. "I have had consensual sex with multiple people in my youth. People who have a problem with that probably didn't have the youth I had."

When the Democratic candidates appear on the debate stage in Toledo on Wednesday, abortion rights could well be among the topics. Critics of Dennis Kucinich, a former Cleveland mayor and congressman, have been highlighting his change of heart on the issue. Prior to 2003, he had a record of voting against many abortion-rights measures.

"I support a woman's right to choose," Kucinich said Tuesday when asked about his change of heart. "I looked at it and decided to address it in a nonpolarizing way."

Richard Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general and former director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said he would fight what he considers an erosion of abortion rights in Ohio.

"Rich Cordray and (lieutenant-governor candidate) Betty Sutton have been strong and consistent supporters of reproductive choice throughout their careers in public service," Cordray's campaign said in a statement. "As Ohio's governor and lieutenant governor, they'll stop the relentless attacks on women's health by Statehouse Republicans and will work to restore funding for Planned Parenthood. Rich and Betty will fight to ensure that all women in Ohio will be allowed to make constitutionally protected decisions about their personal health and will have expanded access to critical health screenings, prenatal and postnatal care, as well as measures to prevent infant mortality."

(c)2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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