Dems blast effort to cut Planned Parenthood money

BARBARA RODRIGUEZ Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio Democrats on Wednesday blasted a proposal intended to cut federal funding to dozens of Planned Parenthood centers in the state, arguing it's a sneak assault against women's health that's being undertaken by other state governments around the country.

Some female Democratic lawmakers gathered at a Statehouse news conference to criticize the last-minute amendment proposal, calling it a political ploy in an election year that's part of the ongoing national debate on abortion. They said Ohio could be the latest state trying to stop any federal dollars from supporting Planned Parenthood.

Lawmakers say they will launch an online petition against the proposal, though they recognize it won't be enough in a Republican-majority Legislature. They said they need to persuade voters, including moderate Republicans, to speak up against it.

The proposal was introduced Tuesday by House Republicans as one of dozens of amendments to a budget bill by Republican Gov. John Kasich that would make a number of spending and policy changes outside of Ohio's normal two-year budget cycle. It calls for other community health groups that help uninsured and underinsured women to receive federal money before abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.

Opponents say it will largely cut or altogether eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, while anti-abortion groups have praised the idea.

State Sen. Nina Turner of Cleveland said the proposed amendment will especially hurt poor women in rural parts of the state with limited access to preventive health care. She said in many cases, Planned Parenthood is their only option for nearby health care service.

"Women do not need a permission slip from government to decide what is in the best interest of their bodies," she said.

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said the proposed amendment doesn't eliminate Planned Parenthood funding and continues to help low-income women with their health needs. He pointed out that 290 community health centers and local health departments around the state offer the same services as Planned Parenthood without including abortion services.

"This notion of, 'Where are women going to go?' They're already going to the 290 health clinics that are out there," he said.

But Lauren Harmon, Women's Caucus director for Ohio House Democrats, said the focus should be on expanding health care options for women, not eliminating their choices.

Harmon said Planned Parenthood serves more than 100,000 people in Ohio and receives more than $1 million in federal family planning dollars out of an available $9.8 million distributed to the state.

Hearings on Kasich's budget proposal were scheduled to continue Thursday.

Gary Dougherty, state legislative director at Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio, which operates 37 centers in the state, said the measure was a concerted effort to defund Planned Parenthood here and elsewhere.

"This is a political statement being made by anti-choice forces in Ohio and frankly, throughout the country," he said.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor was still sorting through the amendment's details.

"The governor is pro-life, strongly supports pro-life policies and we look forward to learning more about their legislation," Nichols said in a statement.

Harmon expressed concern that Ohio could eventually lose all its federal funding -- something that recently happened in Texas after the director of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said a new Texas law violated a federal law that guarantees women the right to choose their health care providers.

The Texas law banned organizations affiliated with abortion providers from participating in a women's health program that provides contraception and check-ups to women. It disqualified Texas from all federal funding. The state's attorney general has sued the federal government to have funding restored, and nine clinics affected by the law have sued the state.