Abortion is once again a front burner issue at the Ohio Statehouse right now, and lawmakers are taking action to defund Planned Parenthood and increase requirements for abortion providers. The Ohio Senate voted for a plan that would strip more than $1.2 million from the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics. Republican Senator Peggy Lehner says the reason for doing this is because of the organization’s choice.
“Planned Parenthood has chosen, you like the word choice, they have chosen to be the leading abortion provider in this state.”
The measure would restrict such funds from going to entities that perform or promote abortions, their affiliates and those that contract with an entity that performs abortions. There is already a federal law on the books that prevents tax dollars from going to abortion clinics but Stephanie Krider with Ohio Right to Life says this bill helps make sure that doesn’t inadvertently happen.
“In a perfect world, it shouldn’t be supporting any abortions at all," says Krider. "It is keeping their lights on, it is paying their staff. It’s the same staff doing HIV testing that is doing pre-abortion appointments. So there is no way to determine no funds are going to support abortions.”
But the bill does take away federal dollars that go to Planned Parenthood for things like HIV testing, cancer screenings, and educational programs aimed at preventing violence against women. Several doctors testified against the defund Planned Parenthood bill in a committee hearing earlier in the day, saying the organization’s services are well known to low income women who depend on them. They said community health clinics that could get the federal dollars once this bill is signed into law are not familiar to women and cannot provide the same services. Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio’s Stephanie Kight says that’s why the state, during all five years of Gov. John Kasich’s administration, had chosen to give the dollars in question to her organization in the first place. She says the group will continue to try to find a way to provide those services.
“Will Planned Parenthood still be here next week? Of course we will," says Kight. "We will find a way. We’ll do good work. But for the woman who has turned to us for breast cancer screening, or a cervical cancer screening or an HIV test, where is she going to turn now, the state of Ohio has no answer for that today.”
Once the bill is passed, Kasich is expected to sign it. And when that happens, Kight is not ruling out a lawsuit.
“We’ll certainly look at every option,” she says.
While some state lawmakers were dealing with the Planned Parenthood bill, some House members were hearing testimony on two bills that would put restrictions on how abortion clinics handle fetal remains. The legislation would also require women to designate whether the fetal remains should be disposed of through burial or cremation. Those bills came about after Attorney General Mike DeWine announced late last year that fetal remains from abortion clinics had ultimately ended up in landfills. A Democratic lawmaker questioned whether that certificate signed by the woman seeking abortion might become a public document but Ohio Right to Life’s Stephanie Krider says that’s not what her group wants.
“Our intent is not to make those documents public. Our intent is not to put all of this out there so, I’m not sure who would but if somebody wanted to search and find out how this baby’s remains came about, our intent is not to do that.”
Still, some Democrats on that committee are questioning the details of it. And they look forward to the next hearing in the House committee when opponents can testify and raise questions. Democrats say they have their own questions about why bills involving abortion are getting so much attention right now when their bills on increasing the minimum wage, equal pay, college affordability and other economic issues are stalled in the legislature. Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni is one of them.
“These are perfect examples of the misplaced priorities that continue to dominate the calendar here in Columbus," says Schiavoni. "It’s time to start focusing on what really matters. Too many people are struggling to make ends meet.”
The timing of all of this is interesting. Gov. Kasich has talked about defunding Planned Parenthood in his presidential campaign. Banning abortion is popular with voters in the Republican primary so signing a bill to defund Planned Parenthood right before key primaries would likely be noticed by conservative voters. Because the bill was amended by the Senate, it still needs to be okayed again by the House, and then Kasich could sign it. That could happen as early as next week – but maybe not before the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday but before the New Hampshire primary on February 9.