Nan Whaley: Gov. DeWine’s Ohio Is ‘a Place Where Women Won’t Want to Be’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Whaley told Jezebel that the state's future will "depend on" whether woman are able to access abortion.

Nan Whaley: Gov. DeWine’s Ohio Is ‘a Place Where Women Won’t Want to Be’
Photo:Chip Somodevilla, Kirk Irwin (Getty Images)

By this time next week, the future of reproductive rights in the once-bellwether state of Ohio will have been determined, and it largely depends on who occupies the governor’s mansion. Will voters reelect Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, or will Democrat Nan Whaley, the former mayor of Dayton, pull off a surprise victory?

“The future of the state is going to depend on whether we’re going to allow women full healthcare access or not,” Whaley told Jezebel in a phone interview on Tuesday. “The choice in this governor’s race is very clear: Mike DeWine is not, and we will.”

Whaley gained national attention in 2019 when she urged then-President Donald Trump to take action on gun violence in the aftermath of a mass shooting in her city, and her gubernatorial campaign has focused on reproductive justice, gun safety, and worker’s rights. But DeWine, the incumbent and a career politician, has an undeniable foothold in the state. According to the state’s largest newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which endorsed him last week, DeWine has an “exceptionally strong” economic record, and recent polls not only reflect a double-digit lead, but an increase in voter favorability.

During this campaign cycle, DeWine has attempted to avoid going on the record about just how much he opposes abortion. In his Plain Dealer interview, he said he “won’t deviate” on “[protecting] human life,” but he’s repeatedly refused to debate Whaley on the issue (or anything else, for that matter).

Since Whaley won her primary in May, she’s called attention to DeWine’s alliances with anti-abortion advocates—namely, Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, who DeWine appointed to the state’s medical board—and his legislative record on abortion. In 2019, he signed a “heartbeat bill,” which banned abortion at the first detection of a supposed fetal heartbeat. (The names of such bills are medically inaccurate: What sounds like a heartbeat around six weeks of pregnancy is actually just a pulse created by ultrasound machines themselves.) Even former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who’s remembered by abortion providers for kneecapping the majority of clinics in the state, vetoed that bill twice. (A state judge indefinitely blocked DeWine’s ban from taking effect last month.)

In July, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a 10-year-old rape victim was forced to leave Ohio to get an abortion. It seemed like Whaley—a squarely pro-choice candidate—wouldn’t have to do much more than let Republican candidates and lawmakers in the state trip over themselves. Ohio Attorney General David Yost, who’s also up for reelection, questioned the victim’s validity during an appearance on Fox News. Senate candidate JD Vance, who’s said he supported outlawing abortion in Ohio, recently fashioned it into a cautionary tale about “illegal immigration.” DeWine has largely stayed mum apart from calling it a “tragedy.” When prompted, he refused to say whether he agreed that minors should be forced to carry their rapist’s babies to term. However, his actions have said quite enough. According to sworn affidavits made public in September, there have been over two dozen instances of minors being forced to leave the state to seek abortions—two of which involved cancer patients—following the Dobbs decision.

“He doesn’t want to answer the question about whether or not he thinks it’s OK for a 10-year-old to carry her rapist’s child to term because I don’t think it will be a popular answer with Ohioans,” Whaley told Jezebel. In his endorsement interview with the Plain Dealer editorial board, DeWine called her abortion-without-exceptions stance a “radical position,” and claimed she is “the one who is out of the mainstream of what Ohioans think.”

Is she? Not according to a recent poll. In early October, nearly 60% of Ohio voters said they support enshrining abortion access in the state constitution. An August poll by the ACLU found that 82% of Ohioans are in favor of some form of abortion access.

Doctors in the state are calling on DeWine for explanation, too. On Wednesday, a group of more than 1,000 doctors (Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights) said DeWine declined to answer nine questions they sent to him about policies that unnecessarily endanger lives and make their jobs more difficult—just days after he said he would consult with medical professionals on abortion legislation. In an email, DeWine’s office told Jezebel it declined to answer the doctors’ questions because they “did not raise new issues that had not been previously addressed by our office.” Issues, that have clearly not been adequately accounted for.

Ohio is also at risk of a doctor shortage due to DeWine’s anti-abortion efforts, and Whaley told Jezebel she’s had multiple meetings on the subject.

“I’ve done probably like four or five roundtables with med students and doctors now, and what I hear from them over and over—in addition to the harrowing stories that they share in their effort to provide care to their patients—is that they call lawyers before they’re even able to practice medicine,” she said. “That’s what’s happening in the state… Med students are like, ‘No, I’m probably not going to practice here anymore.’”

Even still, DeWine is ahead of Whaley in polling, touting supposedly stellar economic policies and a nationally regarded response to the COVID-19 pandemic as arguments that he deserves another term. His favorability ratings are twice as high as those of most other state officials and candidates, despite statistics showing Ohio lost the most jobs in the nation in September.

“The numbers tell the story that Ohio is on the top of bad lists and the bottom of good ones, even on economic opportunity,” Whaley said. She’s not wrong. Ohio leads the nation on infant mortality rates, and its economic health has been deemed mediocre at best. “The state is at a crossroads in this election,” she continued. “It’s going to decide whether it’s going to be a community that’s about growth, opportunity, freedom, women’s rights and workers rights being protected, or, if it’s going to continue to constrict, not support growth, and be a place where women won’t want to be.”

This week, the Guardian reported on Michigan, a bordering state, calling it a “blueprint” for reproductive healthcare access in the Midwest, concluding that it just may be abortion that decides upcoming midterm races there. But Ohio, too, is a blueprint. With only six full-service abortion clinics remaining in the state, legislation like House Bill 704—which would simply ban abortion outright—sitting in the statehouse, and a strong likelihood of a second DeWine term, anti-abortion activists are watching and learning.

“Ohio isn’t a red state or a blue state. It’s a frustrated state that’s been ignored by politicians from both parties for far too long,” Whaley asserted in her victory speech last May. By this election cycle’s end, however, Whaley, along with pro-choice voters in the state, are likely to be the ones most frustrated.

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