COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – An Ohio bill that seeks to divert more than $1 million in government funding away from Planned Parenthood cleared the state Senate on Wednesday after dozens of opponents told a legislative committee that the proposal could limit access to pregnancy prevention services and other health care resources.
The proposal passed on a 23-10 vote. It targets taxpayer money that the organization receives through grant programs administered by the Ohio Department of Health. Those dollars, which are mostly federal, support programs on infant mortality, HIV testing, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and the prevention of violence against women. The bill would restrict such funds from going to entities that perform or promote abortions, their affiliates and those that contract with an entity that performs abortions.
The measure, which is sponsored by the Senate’s Republican leader, cleared the chamber’s Government and Oversight Committee along party lines earlier Wednesday after its second hearing. A similar bill is pending in the House.
Senate President Keith Faber, a Celina Republican, has cited recently released, covertly filmed videos from anti-abortion activists as a reason for lawmakers to support the funding limits.
Those activists have contended that Planned Parenthood officials sought profits from their programs providing post-abortion fetal tissue to researchers. Planned Parenthood said the videos were deceptively edited and denied seeking any payments beyond legally permitted reimbursement of costs.
Faber told his colleagues on the Senate floor that it was “sickening” for him to know that the organization received taxpayer dollars.
“Whether you call yourself pro-life or pro-choice, I think most people have an issue with taxpayer dollars going to an organization that seeks to profit off of the harvest of body parts from the unborn,” Faber said in committee testimony last week and repeated on Wednesday.
Planned Parenthood says it will no longer accept any reimbursement for the costs of making fetal tissue available for research.
Such tissue donations are illegal in Ohio, and a Planned Parenthood state leader has said no donation program exists here.
The proposal would not affect the overall amount of program money available for distribution to organizations, just which ones could get the dollars.
Planned Parenthood treats nearly 80,000 women and men at its 27 affiliated health centers across Ohio. Three locations provide abortions.
Stephanie Kight, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and head of its advocacy arm, told reporters the bill would almost eliminate the organization’s health education and prevention program funding, which it won from the state health department through a competitive application process.
“The state of Ohio selected Planned Parenthood because we were the most effective and efficient providers of those grants,” Kight said.
With dozens of opponents prepared to testify Wednesday morning to a Senate committee, the panel’s chairman sought to limit individuals’ remarks on the bill to two minutes each. Questions of the witnesses were only allowed after all the testimony was delivered to the 12-member panel.
Many of those opposed to the bill told personal stories of their visits to Planned Parenthood centers and the services it has provided for cancer screenings, preventative care and sexually transmitted diseases. Others argued the measure could create health care access issues.
“With paramount goals of increasing women’s health, decreasing infectious disease and reducing infant mortality, we are afraid that prohibiting funding and collaboration with Planned Parenthood will make achieving these goals more difficult,” said Kelli Arthur Hykes, director of public health policy for Columbus Public Health.
Supporters argue that preventative services and other education programs can be provided by other agencies that “prefer child birth over abortion.”
The number of abortion providers in Ohio has shrunk by half amid a flurry of the restrictive new laws over the past four years, and the number of the procedures also is declining.