COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio lawmakers advanced a bill Wednesday that would ban state money from going to organizations that provide abortions.
The bill cleared the state legislature a day after the New Hampshire primary, where Gov. John Kasich scored a second-place finish. The vote was 59-32.
The bill was introduced in 2015 after an anti-abortion group released several online videos about Planned Parenthood, alleging that the non-profit organization, which offers women’s health services and abortions, was selling fetal organs for profit.
Planned Parenthood has said that the videos were heavily edited and aren’t credible. Late last month, a Texas grand jury found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood and instead indicted the anti-abortion activists who were involved in making the videos.
The footage, however, attracted nationwide media coverage and sparked a strong expression of disapproval from people who were against abortions.
In Columbus, more than 100 anti-abortion protesters gathered outside the Statehouse in July to protest against Planned Parenthood. The rally was organized by Columbus Right to Life and Ohio Right to Life.
During the rally, Rep. Bill Patmon, D-Cleveland, announced plans to introduce a bill that would strip state funding from Planned Parenthood. The crowd cheered.
The bill would soon be known as HB294
Republicans Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, Senate President Keith Faber, Secretary of State Jon Husted and State Auditor Dave Yost were also present to voice their opposition to Planned Parenthood and to support the defunding of abortion facilities.
Testimony hearings lasted for months with individuals on both ends voicing their opinions on the bill.
In one hearing, Melanie Miller, executive director of Ashland Care Center, said "Planned Parenthood is like a thief or robber who comes to steal hope, kill innocent lives and destroy futures through lies and deception."
State law already prohibits taxpayer dollars from funding abortions, but the bill would prevent clinics that offer the procedure from receiving any public funding for other health initiatives.
The federal government provides money to Ohio – as part of the Violence Against Women Act – to fund education and unwanted pregnancy prevention programs. Health care providers then apply for the grants, which the state government awards based on which organization will be most effective in using the money.
Those grants are currently awarded to Planned Parenthood.
Approximately $1.3 million in state funding would be diverted away from Planned Parenthood if the bill becomes law.
Bill sponsor Rep. Margaret Conditt, R-Liberty, had said the bill would help women and is not strictly about Planned Parenthood.
But Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, said the bill does target Planned Parenthood. Clyde added the bill would also increase the number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies in Ohio.
“The demonizing of Planned Parenthood creates a culture of hate and fear,” Clyde said. “It creates a world where women and men are terrorize for accessing health care.”
Gabriel Mann, a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said the legislature's action to pass the bill was strategically timed to help Kasich appeal to conservative voters in the upcoming South Carolina primary.
“It’s very shameful and disgusting,” Mann said. “They could have voted on this back in January; they chose not to. (Gov. John Kasich) is going to take health care away from poor, minority citizens of the state of Ohio just to appeal to South Carolina voters.”
Mann said NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio along with its national organization have collected nearly 30,000 petition signatures in support of demanding the governor to veto the bill.
Rep. Barbara Sears, R-Sylvania, said the bill is probably the “largest, singular bill” that would improve women’s health care and access to care. The bill would also channel $250,000 of state funds to the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers to promote safe sleep practices for new moms and babies, birth spacing and smoking cessation.
“This bill allows us to provide additional access to women when it comes to their health care to over 250 additional facilities,” Sears said.
The governor would have to sign the bill before it becomes law. Once a bill has been signed, it becomes law after 90 days.