Ohio House Bill 294: “Improving Health Care” or Restricting Rights?

In February, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed into law Ohio House Bill 294, which cuts over $1 million in funding to Planned Parenthood under the guise of improving women’s health care.

Photo by Ohio Progress (Flickr).

Earlier this year, the Ohio legislature passed House Bill 294 (“the Bill”), which prohibits the state from contracting for health services with any organization that performs or promotes abortion.  On February 22, 2016, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed the Bill into law.

Although Planned Parenthood is not explicitly named in the Bill, the law will effectively prevent approximately $1.3 million in funding from the Ohio’s state health department from going to the nonprofit.  This sharp decrease in funding will make it significantly more difficult for Planned Parenthood to provide crucial programs for women, such as cancer screenings, sexual health and domestic violence education programs, infant mortality prevention measures, and HIV testing.

Planned Parenthood currently has 20 centers in Ohio, only two of which provide abortion procedures.  Abortion procedures represent approximately 5 percent of Planned Parenthood’s statewide budget.

Under the new law, these funds will be distributed to federally qualified health centers and departments instead of entities that perform or promote abortions.

The Bill works to take away funding from Planned Parenthood by requiring Ohio’s department of health to ensure that all funds it receives through various acts, projects, and initiatives are not used to perform nontherapeutic abortions, promote nontherapeutic abortions, or contract with any entity that performs or promotes nontherapeutic abortions.  For example, the department of health cannot use funds it receives from Ohio’s Violence Against Women Act, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act, the Infertility Prevention Project, or the Infant Mortality Reduction and Vitality initiatives.  Under the new law, these funds will be distributed to federally qualified health centers and departments instead of entities that perform or promote abortions.

It was hardly a surprise that Gov. Kasich signed the Bill, which was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Bill Patmon of Cleveland and Republican Rep. Margaret Conditt of Butler County.  Although Gov. Kasich, a Republican presidential candidate, has attempted to project a more moderate image to gain political favor, he has publicly voiced his anti-abortion stance.  During his campaign for the Republican nomination for president, he has also publicly supported the idea of defunding Planned Parenthood.

“This legislation will have devastating consequences for women across Ohio”. . .

Gov. Kasich’s signing of the new law has spurred harsh backlash.  Following his signing of the Bill, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards denounced the law.  “This legislation will have devastating consequences for women across Ohio,” Richards said in a statement.  “John Kasich is proudly eliminating care for expectant mothers and newborns; he is leaving thousands without vital STD and HIV testing, slashing a program to fight domestic violence, and cutting access to essential, basic health care.”

Despite the backlash, Gov. Kasich is adamant that the Bill is consistent with his views regarding the importance of funding health care services for expectant mothers and newborns.  In a statement, a spokesman for Gov. Kasich argued that under this new law women would still have access to many of the services Planned Parenthood provides.

“The Ohio Department of Health has at least 150 other sub-grantees and contractors for the affected grants and projects addressing such issues as new born babies, infant mortality, expectant mothers, violence against women, and minority HIV/AIDS.  ODH will reallocate funding from ineligible providers under the new law to other currently eligible providers, ranging from local health departments and community organizations to hospitals and universities.  These organizations will be required to submit proposals in order receive funding.”

“Ohio’s slap at Planned Parenthood is a punch in a gut to poor women who already have limited access to health services.” 

What Gov. Kasich fails to understand is that a major problem with defunding Planned Parenthood – abortion aside – is not a lack of necessary health care services for women.  Rather, the issue is a lack of affordable health care services for low-income women due to the fact that Planned Parenthood is able to offer services at a fraction of the price as many other health care providers.  According to Sharon Broussard, the chief editorial writer at www.cleveland.com, “[a]ny delay in getting much-needed medical services to poor women is unacceptable, especially since this is about politics, not women’s health care.”  Broussard also added that, “Ohio’s slap at Planned Parenthood is a punch in a gut to poor women who already have limited access to health services.”

While Gov. Kasich and those supporting the Bill insist that it is aimed at improving women’s health care by funneling funds into health care providers who meet certain qualifications, many suspect that the motivation behind the law is a retrogressive attempt to limit women’s access to abortion.  In July 2015, Ohio lawmakers announced that they intended to seek to defund Planned Parenthood due to the circulation of controversial videos depicting Planned Parenthood employees in other states selling aborted fetuses and fetal parts.  In fact, after the release of these videos, Rep. Bill Patmon, who sponsored the Bill, spoke out against Planned Parenthood and abortion during a Statehouse rally.

The anti-choice activists who filmed the videos were later indicted by a Texas grand jury after a finding of no wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.  Despite Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s similar finding that Ohio Planned Parenthood clinics do not sell fetal tissue, Ohio lawmakers continued to push for the Bill under the guise of protecting women’s health.

Ohio is now the tenth state to strip funds from Planned Parenthood.

Although Gov. Kasich has evaded conversations on how the new law will burden women seeking to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion, anti-choice organizations have commented on the Bill.  Ohio Right to Life, the state’s leading anti-choice organization, claims that the Bill is necessary because funding from Ohio’s Violence Against Women Act, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act, the Infertility Prevention Project, and the Infant Mortality Reduction and Vitality initiatives help Planned Parenthood pay for staffing and clinic costs.  Although the overwhelming majority of these funds did not go to providing abortion services, the anti-choice group claims that the funds help Planned Parenthood keep operating, thus enabling them to perform abortions.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper also criticized Gov. Kasich and Ohio Republicans for passing the Bill.  Pepper alluded to Gov. Kasich’s anti-choice motives in signing the Bill, despite Kasich’s insistence that the Bill’s purpose is to improve women’s health care.

“With his decision today to sign House Bill 294, Governor Kasich has finally answered the question of whose side he’s really on,” Pepper said in a statement.  “Rather than listen to the majority of Ohioans who oppose defunding Planned Parenthood, Kasich decided to take sides with radical extremists who were recently indicted on felony charges.”

Ohio is now the tenth state to strip funds from Planned Parenthood.  Days before Gov. Kasich signed the Bill into law, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into legislation a bill that reduced the nonprofit’s funding by approximately $7.5 annually in Wisconsin.

Despite these retrogressive and backward attempts to limit women’s exercise of their constitutional rights under the guise of improving health care, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio CEO Stephanie Kight has said that the Bill will not force the nonprofit to close clinics or stop providing abortion services.  Rather, Kight is hopeful that Planned Parenthood will continue to be able to provide women in Ohio with crucial health care services, including abortion.

Rachel Goodling, Senior Staff Writer
About Rachel Goodling, Senior Staff Writer (17 Articles)
Rachel Goodling is a 2016 graduate and served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She is originally from Cary, North Carolina and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and a Political Science minor. Following her first year of law school, Rachel worked at the NC Department of Justice, Medicaid Investigations Division as the criminal intern. Following her second year of law school, Rachel interned at North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services handling post-conviction appeals as well as civil claims made by inmates across North Carolina. Rachel was also on Campbell's National moot court team.
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