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Strickland#8217;s veto stirs abortion critics

Gov. Ted Strickland’s first showdown with the Legislature on abortion politics was an easy victory: A stroke of his veto pen allowed state spending on human cloning that the Legislature had voted to ban.

The result of Strickland’s decision to nix the provision from an economic stimulus package, however, could reawaken abortion rights opponents who have been laying low.

Opposition to Strickland’s veto was swift and loud.

State Sen. Steve Buehrer, a Delta Republican and sponsor of the ban, called it taxpayer-subsidized ‘‘destruction of life.’’ Tony Perkins, president of the abortion-opposing Family Research Council, said Strickland was ‘‘violating the values of thousands of Ohio taxpayers.’’ And Ohio Right to Life says it’s considering taking the issue to the ballot.

The Legislature has been relatively quiet on abortion-related issues this session.

It passed a bill requiring doctors to offer women seeking abortions ultrasound images of their fetuses, but the women could say no. The bill was a watered down version of a more stringent federal measure that would have required women seeking abortions to look at the pictures. Ohio Right to Life characterized it as a compromise and NARAL-Ohio, which favors abortion rights, remained neutral.

Strickland, an abortion-rights backer, signed the bill in March.

In February 2007, Strickland had removed his name from the state’s effort to defend a new law restricting the use of the abortion drug RU-486. The state went forward with its appeal of a ruling striking down the law and the Legislature remains a defendant, but the Democratic governor’s action in the case drew little criticism.

Strickland also got a pass on a perennial proposal to ban abortions statewide, when House Speaker Jon Husted assigned it to the House Health Committee where it has disappeared from public view.

The abortion debate has quieted in part because Husted and Senate President Bill Harris have their focus on economic and budget issues — and two of the Legislature’s staunchest abortion rights opponents, Sen. Jim Jordan and Rep. Ron Hood, are gone.

The issue has also lost much of its political fire.

The shift was made clear when Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, rejected Ohio Pentecostal pastor Rod Parsley’s endorsement because of controversial remarks he had made. Parsley’s conservative religious message was an important factor in the 2004 and 2006 elections in the state.

McCain’s decision came as liberal Evangelicals have sought to refocus the nation’s values debate away from abortion and other hot-button social issues and toward fighting poverty, providing living wages, and other Democrat-favored issues.

Buehrer’s amendment to the $1.5 billion job-creation package would have prohibited the state from allowing any of the money to be spent on human cloning activities. Strickland vetoed the provision because it would forbid spending on stem-cell research, a key area of the biomedical industry where the governor wants to develop jobs.

Anti-abortion activists oppose embryonic stem-cell research because it involves the destruction of embryos. The still-developing industry has become a new target for their ire.

Buehrer has a separate bill banning human cloning outright, but the bill has been tabled for the time being.

That angers Mike Gonidakis, executive director of Ohio Right to Life. He said it’s possible he will try to get a ban on the statewide ballot in 2010 — the year Strickland is up for re-election.

He wonders at the fact that the pivotal political issue of the past decade would have to take such a course: ‘‘Is a ballot initiative necessary for the life movement?’’

John McCarthy is a reporter for The Associated Press.