Defunding at all Costs

State lawmakers join the pile-on against Planned Parenthood

click to enlarge State legislators’ latest move could cost 27 Ohio Planned Parenthood clinics funding for cancer screenings, infant mortality reduction and other health services. Only three perform abortions.
State legislators’ latest move could cost 27 Ohio Planned Parenthood clinics funding for cancer screenings, infant mortality reduction and other health services. Only three perform abortions.

W

eeks after a federal court order kept two women’s clinics in southwestern Ohio from shutting down over restrictive Ohio laws around abortion, the state’s biggest provider of those services faces a new challenge — a proposed law swiftly moving through the state House of Representatives that prohibits it from receiving federal funds for health screenings and other non-family-planning-related services.

The Ohio Senate on Oct. 21 approved a bill that would strip $1.3 million in federal funding for cancer screenings, infant mortality reduction and other health services from the 27 clinics in the state run by Planned Parenthood. The effort mirrors similar moves in other state legislatures and in Congress, which has fought a pitched battle over the health care provider.

Only three of the nonprofit’s clinics in Ohio perform abortions. But conservative lawmakers say the state shouldn’t be giving any funding to the organization. Those lawmakers say the rest of Ohio’s 200 clinics run by organizations that don’t provide abortions will step in to fill gaps left by defunding Planned Parenthood.

“This bill is not about women’s health care,” said Senate President Keith Faber, who sponsored the bill, during testimony Oct. 21. “It’s about whether we’re going to fund an organization that has its senior leadership nationally — who by the way get money from Ohio — who believe it’s good public policy to chop up babies in a way it makes their parts more valuable so they can buy a Lamborghini.”

Faber was referring to a spate of controversial videos released this summer by pro-life activist group Center for Medical Progress. The documentaries purport to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing sale of fetal tissue.

However, Planned Parenthood and others have ardently disputed the videos, and even Center for Medical Progress member and video producer David Daleiden admits they are edited.

At issue are edited conversations about payment for fetal tissue featured in the videos. In one, a Planned Parenthood official, Dr. Mary Gatter, is heard talking about money to an undercover CMP member posing as a representative for a biotechnology company. The conversation about reimbursement proves that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal remains, CMP says.

However, donation of fetal tissue with the mother’s consent is legal in some states, and Planned Parenthood is allowed to collect fees to cover the expenses associated with handling those tissues. The organization says that’s what the video actually shows.

The videos set off a firestorm. Playing off the controversy, the Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives last month seemed poised to pass a budget bill that stripped all federal funding from Planned Parenthood. That budget, which looked unlikely to make it past a Democratic filibuster in the Senate or a threatened presidential veto, set up a potential government shutdown.

Daleiden has acknowledged he took some liberties with the videos. A section with intense music and a dramatic voice-over describing a 19-week aborted fetus actually shows a picture of a stillborn baby used without the mother’s permission. Daleiden says the intent wasn’t to mislead, but to provide viewers with an idea of what an aborted fetus would look like. Other depictions of aborted fetuses are not from Planned Parenthood facilities, a fact Daleiden acknowledges but shrugs off.

“The two-and-a-half-year-long investigative journalism study that the Center for Medical Progress conducted about Planned Parenthood’s sale of fetal tissue is about exposing to the public the reality of how Planned Parenthood conducts their fetal tissue sales,” Daleiden told CNN.

Despite questions around the videos’ veracity, states with conservative legislatures and governors have seized on them to advance new efforts to strip funding from Planned Parenthood.

North Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas and Louisiana have all passed laws defunding the organization in one way or another, usually by targeting funds the organization receives through Medicaid or Title X, a federal program that provides money for family planning programs.

A federal judge recently placed a temporary stay on Louisiana’s law cutting off Medicaid funding to the organization, saying that Planned Parenthood stands a good chance of eventually winning a federal court battle against the state over the action. None of Planned Parenthood’s clinics in Louisiana provide abortions.

In Ohio, however, three clinics do: one in the Mount Auburn neighborhood here in Cincinnati; another in Columbus; and a third in the Cleveland suburb of Bedford Heights. However, fetal tissue donation is illegal in Ohio, and there is no evidence any clinic here engaged in the practice. The clinic in Cincinnati nearly closed earlier this month after the Ohio Department of Health declined to renew its license in the wake of tougher abortion restrictions slipped in the state’s budget this summer.

Ohio, like other states, has already prohibited Planned Parenthood from getting Title X funds. The bill recently passed by the Senate would also prohibit schools and other public institutions from partnering with Planned Parenthood on sex education initiatives.

Ohio pro-choice activists and women’s health advocates have pushed back against the state’s latest moves. A crowd of around 50 opponents of the Senate bill crowded the chamber to speak at an earlier hearing on the legislation in the Senate’s Government Oversight and Reform Committee Oct. 21. Each was limited to two minutes of testimony. Many sat in the Senate gallery during the later full Senate session with pink tape over their mouths.

Despite the opposition, the bill was voted through the full Senate 23-10 along party lines. Those who voted against it, all Democrats, said it’s not as simple as routing funds for health screenings to other clinics.

“There is no one — no one — but Planned Parenthood providing many of these programs in poor and African-American communities,” said State Sen. Edna Brown of Toledo.

Some health advocates, even religiously affiliated ones, echo that sentiment. They say other clinics throughout the state are unequally distributed and not equipped to provide the services Planned Parenthood does.

“More than half of (Planned Parenthood) health centers are in rural or medically under-served areas, meaning that without Planned Parenthood, other community providers may not be able to provide care to the additional patients who need access to health-care services,” Rev. Cheri Holderidge wrote in testimony to the Senate’s Government Oversight and Reform Committee. Holderidge sits on the board of the Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She says more than 80,000 residents in Ohio visit Planned Parenthood clinics annually.

One of the services Planned Parenthood clinics provide that advocates say many others don’t is infant mortality reduction measures, including prenatal care. That’s a big deal in Ohio, which ranks 45th among states in infant mortality rates, a ranking associated with the state’s high level of mothers in poverty.

The bill will next head to the Ohio House of Representatives, which is controlled by pro-life Republican lawmakers. It will almost certainly pass there, then head to Gov. John Kasich’s desk. Kasich, who is a GOP presidential primary contender, has little incentive to veto the law as he jockeys for position among other Republican governors and Senators for his staunchly pro-life party’s nomination. Though he has declined to comment on the legislation, he could sign the bill into law as early as next month. ©

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