Ohio’s new operating budget calls for $62 billion in spending over two years and several abortion restrictions, including one that requires patients seeking one to first undergo an ultrasound.
And while Democrats are plenty upset about the economics of the plan that Republican Gov. John Kasich ratified on June 30, they sense a political opening on the women’s issues.
Viewers of MSNBC’s "The Rachel Maddow Show" recently got a preview of the heated rhetoric that will typify this debate over the next 16 months as Kasich seeks a second term. Maddow, the cable news program’s liberal host, noted on her June 28 broadcast the anti-abortion measures the GOP-controlled General Assembly had added to the budget, which Kasich had yet to sign.
In interpreting some of the budget’s more-ambiguous abortion language, Maddow contended that the new regulations included a "mandatory vaginal probe at the insistence of the state."
Maddow was referring to a new requirement that women seeking abortions first receive ultrasounds to determine whether a fetal heartbeat is present. Her provocative words quickly went viral and sent PolitiFact Ohio in search of a full copy of the massive state budget.
Did it go as far as she claimed? Did it mandate a transvaginal ultrasound, as Maddow claimed, or did it allow for an external transabdominal procedure? We found our answer in the new Section 2919.191 that with the budget’s approval is now part of Ohio Revised Code.
Division A of that section says that before performing an abortion, a provider must "determine whether there is a detectable fetal heartbeat of the unborn human individual the pregnant woman is carrying." The method for detecting a heartbeat is then spelled out in Division C, which says:
The director of health may promulgate rules pursuant to section 111.15 of the Revised Code specifying the appropriate methods of performing an examination for the presence of a fetal heartbeat of an unborn individual based on standard medical practice. The rules shall require only that an examination shall be performed externally.
In other words, not only are external methods such as transabdominal ultrasounds allowed under the new law; they are required. That sinks Maddow’s claim of a "mandatory vaginal probe."
We reached out to MSNBC and asked representatives if Maddow had anything more to say, but we did not hear back from them.
Because Maddow is an opinion leader on the left, others ran with her claim. The Raw Story, which describes itself as a progressive news website, called attention to the Maddow segment in a June 29 post. And on Twitter, several users seemed to parrot Maddow in tweets at Kasich.
"Nothing says Small Government like a mandated trans vaginal ultra sound," read one tweet.
"Ohio Gov @JohnKasich just ended his re-election chance, by signing into law mandatory big-government-forced object-rape of pregnant women," tweeted another critic.
Abortion is a hot-button issue in politics. And with Kasich up for re-election next year, it’s no surprise that Democrats are eager for a debate that draws contrasts with the governor.
But there should be no debate about what types of ultrasounds these new regulations require. Had Maddow read the language closely, she would have seen a mandate -- for external detection methods. That puts Maddow’s "vaginal probe" claim about as far as can be from the truth, into the realm of the ridiculous.
Or, in Truth-O-Meter terms: Pants on Fire!