FACING OFF

04.19.12

Ohio Republicans Move to Cut Funds to Planned Parenthood, Riling Democrats

A proposed state budget bill would effectively strip federal funding to the family-planning organization. Sen. Nina Turner tells Abigail Pesta, “It’s a social, racial, and economic attack.”

Ohio took a significant step toward cutting federal funds to Planned Parenthood this week. House Republicans added an amendment to a budget bill that would effectively redirect funds away from the family-planning organization. The move infuriated state Democrats, with Senator Nina Turner telling The Daily Beast, “It’s a social, racial, and economic attack. Most of the women who are affected are poor, or black, or brown. It’s becoming a sin in this country to be poor and female.”

The amendment, added to a midterm budget bill on Tuesday, doesn’t specifically name Planned Parenthood, but it restructures federal funding in a way that would make Planned Parenthood and other nonprofit, specialized family-planning centers the lowest priority for funds. The state health department would instead give top priority to “community-health clinics and similar health facilities operated by state, county, or local government entities,” according to the bill. “To the extent funds are available after the department determines that all eligible public entities have been funded ... the department may award funds to nonpublic entities.”

Sen. Turner, who says the bill is designed to penalize Planned Parenthood for providing abortion services, is fighting the legislation with an online campaign. She expects the bill to pass the state House and Senate by Memorial Day, as both chambers have a Republican majority. Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, would then have an opportunity to veto the bill. Sen. Turner sees the likelihood of that as “slim to none.” She adds, “The governor has the chance to stand up for women, for poor and working-class women. I try to remain hopeful. The governor has two daughters himself. I wish people would look at this through a larger lens. This fixation on women and what they do with their bodies, it’s insane. We’re grown women, not little girls. We can make our own decisions.”

Governor Kasich was not immediately available for comment.

Anti-abortion activists praised the proposed legislation. Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said in a statement, “Ohio’s abortion industry will no longer feed at the taxpayer trough. Instead, these dedicated health-care funds will be offered to those entities where a vast majority of low-income women and their children seek responsible and life-saving services.” He added, “With approximately 290 different options available for need-based health care, it is vital for the general assembly to advance this measure to ensure women have access to health care.”

Ohio Right to Life singled out state Representatives Kristina Roegner, Cliff Rosenberger, and Ron Amstutz for the legislation.

None of the three representatives were immediately available for comment.

Sen. Turner points out that federal funds do not go to abortion services at Planned Parenthood, but to preventive services and cancer screenings. “Republicans never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” she says. She adds, “Many single-parent homes are led by mothers. What if she gets sick? What happens to the family? It’s insanity. We’re not even second-class citizens. We’re third class. We are talking about real flesh-and-blood women here. I think that’s what Republicans are missing—it’s as if they’re making decisions for mannequins. It’s a real WTF moment.”

“We’re not even second-class citizens. We’re third class. We are talking about real flesh-and-blood women here. I think that’s what Republicans are missing—it’s as if they’re making decisions for mannequins.”

Gary Dougherty, the state legislative director for Planned Parenthood in Ohio, says women who visit Planned Parenthood centers aren’t making a political statement, but seeking health care. The organization says its 32 Ohio centers provide nearly 100,000 women with cancer screenings, birth control, prevention and treatment of STDs, breast-health services, pap tests, sexual-health education, and health counseling. Doughtery adds that under Ohio’s proposed restructuring of federal funds, Planned Parenthood would be ineligible to receive funding under both the Violence Against Women Act and the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act, among others. He said Planned Parenthood is currently studying the bill and that some of the language is “undefined.”

Several other states have either tried or are currently trying to channel federal funds away from Planned Parenthood, including Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas, Texas, Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma. The proposed legislation varies from state to state, according to a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman. “Some proposals attempt to prohibit Planned Parenthood from participating in federal programs like Medicaid and Title X, while others attempt to block Planned Parenthood from participating in state family-planning programs,” she says. “Several states are attempting to defund Planned Parenthood by creating tiered funding schemes that prioritize providers in such a way that would all but guarantee that Planned Parenthood would receive little to no funding.” A hearing is scheduled in Texas today to address a lawsuit that Planned Parenthood filed in federal court against the Texas health department.

Sen. Turner made national headlines earlier this spring when she proposed a bill that would make it more difficult for men to get Viagra, calling on men to undergo psychological counseling and medical screening to make sure they are mentally and physically equipped to take the medication. “I was just listening to some of this stuff that’s going on around the country and I thought, I just can’t take it anymore,” she says. “Yes, there’s a satire element to this, and I think people learn from it.” As for her proposed bill’s current status, she says, “I haven’t gotten a hearing yet.”

Sen. Turner she wants women to “lift their voices.” She adds, “I hope women wake up and use their power to clear our governors’ mansions throughout this country. This is about people's right to control their destinies. Oh wait, that's only for men, only for wealthy folks? Sometimes I think these men were hatched, not birthed. They have a hatred for women.”