Bad week for reproductive choice in Ohio, as State Senate passes bill to defund Planned Parenthood AND any of its affiliates

Anyone who has spent some time on the Internet over the past few months has likely heard about the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood, the secretly filmed videos, and our state and federal government’s efforts to defund the nation’s largest provider of affordable healthcare and reproductive choice to women. You’ve probably heard many cries both of support and resistance to defunding Planned Parenthood; but you may not have heard the cries from inside the Ohio Statehouse Wednesday morning. I did.

Wednesday morning, members of the Ohio Senate gathered to hear testimony from advocates of a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, as well as time-limited testimony from opponents of this bill (aka advocates of women’s reproductive rights).

When I first entered the hearing room at about 8:55am, the members of the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee were listening to testimony about an arguably inconsequential house resolution re-affirming the historical significance of the Wright Brothers to Ohio. Testimony was short and casual, yet a tangible tension hung in the air as I, along with approximately 115 others, waited silently in anticipation of the soon-to-come discussion of Senate Bill 214.

What is Senate Bill 214?

Senate Bill 214 (S.B. 214) is the Ohio legislature’s broad attempt to block public funding and resources from Planned Parenthood locations across the state. And, when I say it’s broad, I mean it’s broooaaaad. But we’ll get to that later.

Emotions ran high as the bill’s opposition – primarily advocates, employees, affiliates, and patients of Planned Parenthood – spoke one at a time to the senators of the committee. They shared personal stories of the immeasurably positive impact they’ve witnessed Planned Parenthood make, as it occupies a critical social role that they view as indispensable to under-served Ohio communities in need of access to safe health care options. They shared accounts of times when they or others they care about were stuck facing some of life’s most serious struggles, and how Planned Parenthood’s guidance helped them deal with relationship violence, sexual assault, STI diagnoses, unwanted pregnancies, and a myriad of other life-altering moments. Opposing testimonials were able to seamlessly sustain for nearly three and a half hours, despite the fact that the committee had limited speaking time for opponents to 90 seconds per witness. There was a lot that needed to be said to these senators, face to face.

Still, as the hearing drew on and the Republican members of the committee displayed their indifference to these pleas, I found myself overcome with feelings of frustration, sadness, and fury. What I didn’t feel was one bit surprised. No, I was not surprised at all to see the passive-aggressive, ultra-conservative culture of Ohio’s 131st General Assembly there on display. I knew before I even arrived at this hearing that I should expect to leave feeling angered and ignored by the people who were supposedly elected to represent my interests and the interests of our state, the people who in fact have been wreaking havoc on my fundamental right to make decisions about my health and well-being (See Exhibit A: The “Heartbeat Bill). That’s just an expectation I’m conditioned to have these days as a pro-choice, liberal woman living in Ohio.

But, perhaps the singular moment of the hearing that did strike me with surprise was an opposition testimony delivered by an anti-choice advocate. Yes, you read that correctly. A member of the anti-choice movement came before the committee to speak in opposition to the Ohio bill currently being considered to “defund Planned Parenthood”. Why? Because this bill doesn’t accomplish what they want it to either. Its provisions go far beyond defunding Planned Parenthood, into the dangerous territory of trying to collapse the state’s entire social infrastructure around Planned Parenthood and organizations that provide abortion services.

Among the many issues warranting public outrage and opposition to this particular bill is its language. Vague and unspecific, the actual text of this law is difficult to interpret and prime for overreach. Just take this excerpt for instance:

According to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission (LSC), SB 214: “Requires the Ohio Department of Health to ensure that the funding and materials that are received or used in certain programs are not used to do any of the following:

(Notice anything? Like maybe an absence of the name “Planned Parenthood”?)

By this text, it appears the bill is designed to cut public funding from any organization that sustains even a casual working relationship with any entity that provides or promotes non-therapeutic abortion (a term they mean to refer specifically to abortion services for reasons other than rape, incest, or life endangerment of the mother, but that may very well be an unconstitutional classification). The authors of the bill deliberately and specifically want to defund Planned Parenthood, but they don’t say so in plain terms. Instead, they use broad frameworks and provisions that could easily affect funding for sex education programs, rape crisis centers, counseling services, or even schools that utilize any resources offered by organizations like Planned Parenthood, such as classroom sex education programs or free birth control. Using the resurgence of negative public attention around Planned Parenthood as the carrot, and the continued state funding as the stick, this committee as a sub-faction of the legislature itself is doing everything possible to keep organizations and institutions from maintaining any relationship with Planned Parenthood – all except actually mandating that (because THAT they cannot do).

Perhaps the most ludicrous aspect of this bill and its whole motivation is this: the “entities” and “affiliates” whose continued state funding would be contingent on their ceasing all communications and relations with Planned Parenthood (provider of “non-therapeutic abortions”) would also be kept from referring people to Planned Parenthood for services that have absolutely nothing to do with abortion. It is more likely that these organizations are partnered with Planned Parenthood for things such as sexual health education programs, contraception, cancer screenings, etc., since that’s where 96% of Planned Parenthood’s services focus. Already, it’s illegal for organizations that offer abortion services to use public funding to pay for abortion procedures. So what does this law seek to accomplish? The destruction of Planned Parenthood entirely – in ALL of the services it provides.

So, if this bill is not about state funding of abortion (because that’s already illegal and Planned Parenthood receives no public funding for abortion), and it’s not about state funding of fetal tissue procurement (because, by Ohio law, the state’s Planned Parenthood centers are already kept from participating in fetal tissue donation programs), what is S.B. 214 really about?

It’s about power.

It’s about the state looking for ways to eliminate the medical autonomy of Ohio women, one piece of extremist legislation at a time. And it’s working (with expediency, I might add). On Wednesday, shortly after the conclusion of the hearing I attended, the Ohio Senate voted in support of SB214 along partisan lines.

We the people are now shouldered with the responsibility of taking it back if we ever want the radicalization of our state policies to end.

Call your representatives. Tell them ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and that you STAND WITH PP.