The relentless assault on reproductive health care
by Gary Dougherty

Almost exactly one year ago, I was invited to write a Plunderbund guest post related to the proliferation of anti-choice legislation, particularly the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood.  I re-read that post recently and couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that we are still embroiled in an assault on reproductive health care rights – only, believe it or not, it has gotten worse.

Whereas the pace of this session has not matched that of last session (when seven anti-choice bills had already been introduced and the House and Senate had each passed one by mid-April), the environment is just as toxic for those who care about women having access to the health care provider of their choice.

Planned Parenthood defunding

Once again, the budget bill (HB 59) is being used as a vehicle to dismantle an effective mechanism for distributing federal Title X family planning funds such that Planned Parenthood would not qualify for the funds until they have been exhausted.  With the help of moderate Republicans, a similar provision was stricken from the Mid-Biennium Review budget bill (HB 487) last year and former Senate President Tom Niehaus signaled the demise of a separate bill (HB 298) during last year’s lame duck session.  Unfortunately, this year’s effort appears to have a better chance of survival.

It’s hard to understand why entities that are already eligible to apply for family planning funds, but had either previously chosen not to apply or whose proposals were not scored high enough to be funded, would now get priority access to those funds over Planned Parenthood, the expert in providing family planning services in Ohio for more than 80 years, and other providers who specialize in family planning.

This budget sacrifices a competitive grant application process that awards those applicants who can serve more people in the most cost-efficient manner in favor of a tiered scheme that ensures that the experts in providing family planning services are placed at the bottom of the eligibility ladder.  Good stewardship of limited public funds?  Absolutely not.  Kowtowing to the extreme agenda of those seeking to banish Planned Parenthood, notwithstanding that 97% of services provided by Planned Parenthood are preventive health care?   Most definitely.

It’s also worth noting that this clear attack on Planned Parenthood will have the collateral effect of denying other family planning providers from accessing these funds, notably Family Planning Association of Northeast Ohio (serving Lake, Geauga, and Ashtabula counties), Family Planning Services of Lorain County, and Family Health Services of East Central Ohio (serving Licking Muskingum, Perry, and Fairfield counties).

State support of crisis pregnancy centers

The budget bill also was amended to include a provision to divert tax dollars to support crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).  Whereas Planned Parenthood provides all-options counseling regarding adoption, raising the child, and ending a pregnancy, CPCs are generally known to provide pregnant women with false and misleading information to discourage them from obtaining an abortion.

Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers

Across the nation, anti-choice activists have found that they can effectively ban abortion by making the safe, legal medical procedure inaccessible without actually banning it.  This is accomplished through requirements that abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges, have transfer agreements with area hospitals, and/or comply with cumbersome (and unnecessary) architectural requirements that do nothing to enhance the health care experience for the patient.

Earlier this month, seemingly bowing to pressure from Ohio Right to Life (whose president you will recall was appointed to the State Medical Board last year), the University of Toledo Medical Center canceled a transfer agreement with Capital Care Network and terminated negotiations with the Center for Choice to enter into such an agreement.

Because state law requires all ambulatory care centers to have an agreement with an area hospital to transfer patients who experience complications and require emergency treatment, the lack of these transfer agreements could spell the end of abortion services in LucasCounty.

Whereas UTMC is a publicly-funded hospital, it does not perform abortions nor would it perform abortions under the transfer agreement.  It would simply provide emergency treatment to any patient who may require it.  One would think that providing emergency treatment would fall under the mission of any hospital, public or private.

Gateway Sexual Activity

I was putting the finishing touches on this post Tuesday, but took some time out to go to the Statehouse and sit in on the House Finance and Appropriations Committee.  Imagine my surprise (well, not really) when I heard the Chairman, Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster), read one of the several components of an omnibus budget amendment that would allow for teachers to be fined up to $5,000 for providing information to their students about “gateway sexual activity.”

Never mind that “gateway sexual activity” wasn’t defined.  Heck, the Chairman himself doesn’t know what it means!  What it seems to do is double down on abstinence-only instruction – with an emphasis on “only” – which has been proven to be ineffective and disallow any discussion of condoms or birth control as a means of preventing pregnancy.

If the Chairman wants to have a conversation about the topic, as he is quoted as saying in yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch, I suspect it is a conversation that he will indeed have, no matter how one-sided it may be.  Here’s hoping that cooler heads prevail during today’s debate and vote on the budget by the full House; however, I’ve been around long enough to know not to hold my breath.

On the horizon…

I haven’t even mentioned the removal of the Medicaid expansion from the state budget bill or the “heartbeat bill,” some version of which is expected to be introduced again.

Batten down the hatches because the assault on reproductive health care is bearing down on women and their families throughout Ohio.  It will be relentless and ruthless.  After all, who knows best about their needs?