Anti-abortion advocates in Ohio have already banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds for family planning; the latest bill is a way to get at federal funds administered by the state government. The ultimate goal is to shut down Planned Parenthood entirely by cutting off public money,following Texas’s lead in gutting access to reproductive health care. In Ohio, Franklin says, “We’re trying to pursue a different kind of incremental approach."
Anti-abortion groups had been making the case for the bill since the beginning of the year, but the legislative push began in earnest in July, after anti-abortion activists first released undercover videos accusing Planned Parenthood of illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. The measure is now going through hearings in both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Supporters and opponents alike expect it to be voted out of committee, pass the General Assembly, and hit Governor John Kasich's desk by Thanksgiving. A Kasich spokesman said the governor would not comment on pending legislation, but he’s widely expected to sign the bill if it passes. Despite pitching himself as a moderate in his presidential campaign, and slamming House Republicans for threatnening the shut down the government over Planned Parenthood, Kasich has green-lit every significant restriction on abortion and family planning since he took office in 2011.
Even Democratic opponents admit that the bill has been cannily packaged and presented. “The Republican Party did a good job with this," says state Representative Greta Johnson. "They came out strong with these horribly edited videos and scared even moderate Democrats into thinking, ‘I can’t be affiliated with them.' " Anti-abortion advocates have touted the bill as bipartisan, having scored the support of Democratic state Representative Bill Patmon, who is co-sponsoring the measure in the House. But the vast majority of Democrats are vocally opposing it.
The Ohio strategy is more piecemeal than what we're seeing in states like Arkansas and Louisiana, whose governors have tried to go big by cutting the organization’s contracts with Medicaid, which provides roughly 75 percent of its funding. Texas Governor Greg Abbott this week announced that his state was dropping Planned Parenthood from Medicaid (court challenges will follow), and Ohio anti-abortion groups have clamored for Kasich to do the same. But Ohio’s current legislative strategy could ultimately prove more lasting, as federal courts have temporarily halted Arkansas andLouisiana's attempts to cut Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid funding. “In Ohio we’ve been careful to enshrine as much as we can in law," says Franklin. "It would stand longer and it would hold regardless of who is our state’s executive. That’s important to us for making long-term change."
Other states are taking a similarly incremental approach. North Carolina’s GOP-controlled state legislature passed a budget last month that bans Planned Parenthood from receiving state money for family planning and pregnancy prevention. Also last month, Wisconsin’s state Assembly passed a measure that aims to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving federal Title X funds by having the state's health department apply for the federal grant instead.
Supporters of the Ohio bill say that the funds will simply be redirected to other clinics, community health centers, and local health departments, without interrupting health services. But the state's community health centers are already under strain, and might not have the capacity to take on the additional clients. “You’re going to take a proven, effective program that’s making a difference—you’re going to disrupt that and try to find someone else to replicate it,” says Copeland, who points out that Planned Parenthood clinics were awarded the federal grants through a competitive process.
This is another battle that Republicans are winning easily. Ohio's state government is 100% controlled by the GOP and has been since 2011. Midterm elections in 2014 only gave Republicans more power (and re-elected Kasich in a landslide). Now Ohioans are reaping that particular whirlwind.
Ending abortion and making contraception available to only the few was always the goal, and Kasich is leading the charge.