Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the so-called “moderate” in the Republican presidential primary race, confirmed on Wednesday that he will sign into law an extreme new piece of legislation that effectively defunds Planned Parenthood clinics statewide by denying state and federal grants to “organizations that provide or advocate for abortion care, are affiliated with organizations that provide or advocate for abortion care, or have contracts with organizations that provide abortion care.”
The measure, House Bill 294, was crafted in 2015 following the release of a series of deceptively edited, misleading undercover videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood was engaged in the “illegal trafficking of aborted fetal parts.” The videos were quickly debunked, and Planned Parenthood has been cleared of any wrongdoing in every state and federal investigation launched in the aftermath of the fake scandal. And in a moment of pure poetic justice last month, a Texas grand jury indicted the filmmakers, saying they illegally used forged documents as part of their ruse.
Despite this, the Republican lawmakers who authored the Ohio legislation used the videos as the main evidence for defunding the state’s largest women’s health care organization, even after Ohio’s attorney general cleared the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics of any unlawful acts (it’s worth noting that only 3 of Ohio’s 28 Planned Parenthood clinics provide abortion, and none participate in fetal tissue donation). On Wednesday, the GOP-controlled state legislature passed the bill, which is now headed to the governor’s office. Kasich confirmed yesterday that he will sign the bill — a move that completely undermines his self-proclaimed status as a “moderate” Republican.
“The secret is out: John Kasich is terrible for women’s health,” Dawn Laguens, Vice President of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. ”He knows that his attacks on women’s health are unpopular – that’s why he never talks about them on the campaign trail. But as the Governor of Ohio, John Kasich has done everything within his power to ban access to safe, legal abortion and basic care at Planned Parenthood health centers.”
While a number of other Republican-led states have tried to defund Planned Parenthood in recent months, Ohio lawmakers are breaking new ground with HB 294 by “trying a new method of cutting Planned Parenthood’s funding — one that some officials fear could have devastating consequences for public health,” writes Vox’s Emily Crockett.
Other recent attempts to defund Planned Parenthood have directly targeted the agency’s family planning program through Medicaid cuts, though most of these efforts have been defeated in court. The Ohio bill is different in that it targets specific state- and federally-funded programs addressing a wide range of health issues including STIs, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, infant mortality and other problems. Planned Parenthood receives a large percentage of that money every year to administer the programs across the state. Under the new bill, the organization will not be eligible to receive funding to continue administering those programs because of its (very limited) role as an abortion provider. The funds will instead be redirected to other providers, including dentist’s offices, school nurses, and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers, which do not perform the vital services offered at Planned Parenthood clinics.
Even worse, because of the bill’s vague wording, public health experts say the measure could effectively defund local health departments — cutting off funds for all forms of care — and ban major Ohio insurers from covering any other health services simply based on the fact that they are also affiliated with abortion providers. reported in January that “the Columbus Public Health department said it would be unable to contract with any hospital in the city because they either provide abortion services, contract with abortion clinics or refer patients to abortion services.”
The funding cut is not expected to force any Planned Parenthood health centers to close their doors, and it won’t have any impact on their ability to provide abortion services. What it will do, however, is harm women — many of them poor — who rely on the organization for low-cost health care services, particularly in rural areas. Look no further than experience of an Indiana county where HIV infections surged after several Planned Parenthood clinics that provided HIV testing were shuttered.
The cuts will also affect the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program, a neighborhood outreach effort by Ohio’s Planned Parenthood that offers support and education to high-risk African American women in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. These women receive in-home visits throughout their pregnancies and for the first two years after giving birth. In these impoverished areas, African American women are twice as likely to give birth to a baby with a low birth weight than the population at large. Ohio ranks 45th nationally for its infant mortality rate, and has one of the highest rates of infant death for African American mothers in the country.
It is possible this measure might also lead to a replication of what happened in Texas after Planned Parenthood was defunded there in 2012, leaving many low-income women unable to access affordable, effective birth control. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed a significant decrease in contraception insurance claims among low-income Texas women and a corresponding 27 percent increase in birth rates since the law took effect. The state did not see any reduction in abortions.
“We’ve seen the dire consequences for women, men and young people when politicians block access to care at Planned Parenthood health centers,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. “It’s time for political games to end — and for Governor Kasich to veto this bill so Ohioans don’t lose vital care.”
Kasich, who gained new prominence in the GOP presidential race after unexpectedly placing second in the New Hampshire primary, has a long, consistent history of fighting reproductive rights in Ohio. In his five years in office, Kasich has signed every anti-abortion bill to cross his desk as governor. During his time as governor, 17 restrictions on women’s health were passed and signed into law, and almost half of the abortion providers in the state have been forced to close. When a female voter in New Hampshire asked him about Planned Parenthood, he was clear about his stance: “We’re not gonna fund it.” When the voter pressed him about all of the other crucial services that Planned Parenthood also offers women, Kasich declared that “we’re done” and walked away.
“Kasich is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s going out there trying to sell himself as a moderate, he’s no moderate. He is an extremist,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. “He is—if not the worst—among the worst of anti-choice governors in this country’s history.”