Ohio lawmakers are considering a budget provision like one that caused five of six Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas to lose funding and, the group says, left poor women without access to preventive health care.
Republicans who control the Legislature amended a fast- moving budget bill last week to put Planned Parenthood at the end of the line to apply for federal dollars that Ohio distributes for contraceptives and other family-planning services. Public health departments and other providers would have priority.
Agencies that don’t provide abortions should get the first chance for the funds, said Representative Ron Amstutz, chairman of the House Finance Committee. While advocates say health care wouldn't be affected, access to family planning would be reduced in a fight reaching statehouses after congressional attempts last year to defund Planned Parenthood, said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which studies abortion trends.
“We have never seen this level of activity around restricting family-planning dollars,” Nash said in a telephone interview from Washington.
Ohio would be the second U.S. state besides Texas to enact such a priority system, and Arizona, Kansas, New Hampshire and Oklahoma are considering a similar approach, Nash said. Ohio also is joining Iowa, Michigan, New York and Tennessee in seeking to prohibit groups that provide abortions from receiving federal funding for health services such as under the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act and Minority HIV/AIDS Initiative, Nash said.
In Texas, the priority funding enacted last year dissuaded two Planned Parenthood affiliates from applying, and five of the other six lost their family-planning money, Sarah Wheat, co- chief executive of the Austin affiliate, said in a telephone interview.
That affiliate and two other independent, nonprofit centers that don’t provide abortions lost $1.2 million, and while exact numbers are not available, it’s clear that not all the 16,000 women the providers served last year can get the same services elsewhere, Wheat said.
“It’s just not possible for as many women to receive the care when you remove Planned Parenthood from the available options,” Wheat said.
Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio received $1.63 million of the $4.3 million in federal family-planning funds the state got last year, according to its Health Department. It is too soon to say how Planned Parenthood would be affected by the budget measure, though the group serves 100,000 women a year, said Gary Dougherty, state legislative director.
More than 96 percent of what Planned Parenthood does in Ohio involves services other than abortion, such as cancer screenings and prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, Dougherty said. Only three of its 32 clinics provide abortions, he said.
“Thousands of women should not be denied access to preventive care and family-planning services due to the philosophical opposition of some to a small percentage of what Planned Parenthood does,” Dougherty testified at an April 18 committee hearing in Columbus.
Women wouldn’t be denied services, because Ohio has more than 160 other community-health centers and 130 health districts, according to Ohio Right to Life in Columbus. The measure seeks to keep taxpayer dollars “out of the pockets of the abortion industry,” said Stephanie Krider, the group's director of legislative affairs.
“We don’t want to send women to an abortion-minded clinic when we can send women all of these other places that provide comprehensive medical care,” Krider said at an April 19 hearing.
Thirteen of Ohio’s 88 counties without Planned Parenthood family-planning programs might still lose funding because other nonpublic providers also would be placed last in line to apply, Jaime Miracle, policy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio in Cleveland, said in written testimony.
“Is it OK with the Ohio General Assembly that thousands of these patients could lose access to family-planning services just because their service provider was caught in the cross-fire of a political power play in an election year?” Miracle said.
Doctors and hospitals are studying the bill to see whether they might lose funding as well because they provide emergency contraceptives or abortions to save a mother’s life, said Melissa Arnold, executive director of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
‘In Women’s Wombs’
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has backed legislation to allow some employers to deny health insurance coverage for contraception and said he would stop funding Planned Parenthood. Echoing a national theme, Democratic lawmakers say the Ohio budget measure is part of a “war on women.”
It’s hypocritical for Republicans who say they want limited government to be pushing measures that will have “big government in women’s wombs across this nation,” said Senator Nina Turner, a Cleveland Democrat.
“Women do not need a permission slip from government to decide what is in the best interest of their bodies,” Turner said at an April 18 press conference in Columbus.
The conflict is about abortion and not women’s health, Amstutz told reporters April 18.
“There’s a war over the morality of how we view life in this country,” Amstutz said. “We’re finding that it’s moving in the direction of life, and so this is another attempt to keep moving in that direction.’
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