Section: News

Janet Byrne-Smith ’76 speaks on upcoming general election 

Janet Byrne-Smith ’76 speaks on upcoming general election 

COURTESY OF KENYON PPGA

Janet Byrne-Smith ’76, a member of the Knox County Democratic Party executive committee and chair of the Knox County communications committee, spoke about abortion rights and voting in Ohio at a Planned Parenthood Generation Action (PPGA) Q&A session on Sept. 17. She discussed the significance of Ohio’s upcoming general election for reproductive rights and encouraged Kenyon students to register to vote this fall.

This November’s general election in Ohio is one of historical significance, containing two ballot initiatives: legalizing recreational marijuana and an amendment deciding whether or not enshrine the right to an abortion in the Ohio constitution. Currently, abortion in Ohio is legal through 22 weeks of pregnancy, as the proposed six-week ban has been indefinitely blocked by an Ohio judge as legal challenges play out. 

In 2022, three similar ballot measures in California, Michigan and Vermont were successful. Ohio is the only state that will put abortion on the ballot this fall, making the results of the issue significant on both a local and national level. “The rest of the country is definitely watching what happens in Ohio,” Byrne-Smith said.

Byrne-Smith is passionate about raising awareness of the significance of the upcoming election for reproductive rights, largely due to her own memories of Ohio prior to the federal protection of abortion. At the beginning of her time at Kenyon, abortion was illegal in Ohio before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade protected the right to have an abortion at the federal level. 

According to Byrne-Smith, women’s rights have developed dramatically since then. While the 70s brought about historical increases in women’s representation, including the passing of Title IX and increased accessibility of birth control, the decade also witnessed deaths resulting from underground abortions in the three years that preceded the passing of Roe v. Wade. Byrne-Smith recalled hearing national news stories about the deaths of women who obtained or performed an illegal abortion. “We can’t go back,” she told captivated students at the PPGA meeting.

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022, the legality of abortions everywhere is at risk. “Ten years from now, who knows what could happen?” Byrne-Smith asked. 

Anti-abortion laws also have consequences for healthcare, including the education received by the next generation of doctors. Byrne-Smith noted that medical schools in Ohio are currently not mandated to teach abortion procedures, which not only impacts the abortion procedure itself but other related procedures such as miscarriages.

When not canvassing in Knox County to encourage locals to vote “Yes” for abortion on the ballot, Byrne-Smith is helping community members, including students, to register to vote. “If you care about this issue, this is the place to vote,” Byrne-Smith said. 

Students can register to vote online on Ohio’s government website or in person at the Center for the Study of American Democracy’s table in Peirce Dining Hall this month. Additionally, those looking to help Byrne-Smith canvas in Knox Country can reach out to her at janet@byrnesmith.com.

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