Ohio Democrats condemn GOP candidates' comparison of abortion and slavery

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Both Republican Senate nominee J.D. Vance and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Patrick Fischer have compared abortion and slavery.

Republican Ohio Senate nominee J.D. Vance on Saturday endorsed Justice Patrick Fischer of the Ohio Supreme Court for reelection. Like Vance, Fischer has been criticized for comments likening abortion to slavery.

Speaking to supporters at a campaign canvass launch, Vance, a millionaire venture capitalist and author, welcomed Fischer, who is seeking a second six-year term on the state's highest court.

"I've voted for Republican Supreme Court candidates in the past. This year has taught me how important it is to have a Republican Supreme Court like never before," Vance said, urging them to reelect Fischer and elect Sharon Kennedy, a current Republican justice running for the position of chief justice.

Since the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization in June stated that there is no federal right to abortion and gave the states the authority to decide the question of its legality for themselves, the political leanings of the members of state supreme courts have taken on new importance. The results of the election of justices to the Ohio Supreme Court in November may determine whether abortion remains legal in the state.

Fischer, who touts himself as "experienced, respected & conservative," has a right-wing record on the court, upholding capital punishment and dissenting from a decision that struck down a Republican gerrymander of the state's congressional maps.

He made headlines in July for saying at a Delaware City Republican Club event that the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling — which held that the right to have an abortion was protected by the Constitution and remained on the books for nearly 50 years before the Dobbs ruling overturned it — was based on arguments similar to those in decisions that upheld slavery and racial segregation.

"Ladies and gentlemen, do you know what substantive due process is? It would take me hours to go into it," Fischer told the group. "But you know what it's the basis for? The Dred Scott decision. Not good. It's the basis for Plessy v. Ferguson. Not good. And it was the basis for Roe v. Wade."

Substantive due process is the legal principle that the Constitution protects fundamental rights even if they are not specifically named in its articles, with such rights as such as privacy and marriage included by some jurists.

The 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford held that Black people were property and could not be citizens of the United States. The 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson held that so-called "separate but equal" legally enforced segregated accommodations for white people and Black people did not violate the Constitution.

Ohio Democrats called the comments "shameful."

Matt Keyes, a spokesperson for the Ohio Democratic Party, said in a statement posted to the party's website: "Justice Fischer's comments were nothing short of disgusting, and he – like J.D. Vance – should apologize immediately. With his remarks, Justice Fischer demonstrated just how extreme and out-of-touch the Court will become if the Republicans running are reelected. Ohioans are once again reminded that the stakes of November's elections couldn't be higher."

"They're grasping at straws to try to justify something that they know is deeply unpopular among mainstream Ohio," David Pepper, a University of Cincinnati College of Law professor and former state party chair, told Cleveland.com. "So this analogizing to slavery, people are grasping at straws to try to explain away something that most Ohioans are still shocked about."

Fischer denied in a column published by the Columbus Dispatch that he had "compared abortion to slavery" but then repeated his same argument that Dred Scott and Plessy were decided on the same basis as Roe v. Wade, and that all were wrong decisions.

Vance himself has made direct comparisons between abortion and slavery.

In October 2021, he told "The Catholic Current" podcast that he is "100% pro-life" and said, "I also think that there's something comparable between abortion and slavery, and that while the people who obviously suffer the most are those subjected to it, I think it has this morally distorting effect on the entire society.”

Vance's statements on abortion bans have not been consistent.

In a January appearance on the "What's Left?" podcast, Vance said, "I certainly would like abortion to be illegal nationally."

As of this writing, his campaign website issues page includes a section with the title "End Abortion," in which he says: "I am 100 percent pro-life, and believe that abortion has turned our society into a place where we see children as an inconvenience to be thrown away rather than a blessing to be nurtured. Eliminating abortion is first and foremost about protecting the unborn, but it’s also about making our society more pro-child and pro-family. The historic Dobbs decision puts this new era of society into motion, one that prioritizes family and the sanctity of all life."

Asked during an interview with the Spectrum 1 News in Columbus, Ohio, in September 2021 about his reaction to a recent abortion ban enacted in Texas, Vance said: "Well, I think in Texas they're trying to make it easier for unborn babies to be born. There is a view, common among leaders of the Democratic Party, that babies deserve no legal protections in the womb." Asked whether abortion bans should include exceptions in cases of rape and incest, he said:

Look, I think two wrongs don't make a right. At the end of the day, we're talking about an unborn baby. What kind of society do we want to have? A society that looks at unborn babies as inconveniences to be discarded? ... Look, my view on this has been very clear. I think the question betrays a certain presumption that's wrong. It's not whether a woman should be forced to bring child to term, it's whether a child should be allowed to live even though the circumstances of that child's birth are somehow inconvenient or a problem to the society.

But like other Republican candidates across the country since the unpopular ruling in Dobbs, Vance has played down his support for a total abortion ban.

During an appearance on NBC News' "Face the Nation" on July 8, journalist Yamiche Alcindor asked Vance whether he would support a federal abortion ban if he were elected. Vance answered:

I think that, what I really think, on the, so first of all, the Dobbs decision, everybody knows, overruled Roe v. Wade. I think that was the right decision, kicks it back to legislatures at the federal and the state level. My view on this is, let the states try to figure this out for now. Ohio has a heartbeat bill, I think that's a good bill. Florida has gone a slightly different direction, Virginia's gone a slightly different direction. When we're figuring this new legal regime out, I think it makes sense right now to let the states decide this stuff, and right now, states are moving in a pro-life direction. I think that's a good thing.

When Alcindor asked him whether "the Senate or the federal government should have a role on abortion," Vance answered, "Not right now."

Vance will face Democratic nominee Rep. Tim Ryan in November for the open seat of retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman.

Ryan is a co-sponsor of the Women's Health Protection Act, which would codify in federal law the right to abortion affirmed in the decision in Roe.

Fischer is facing Democratic nominee Terri Jamison, an appeals court judge who notes on her campaign site that she is endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio and #VoteProChoice.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.