BEDFORD HEIGHTS, OHIO — Over the course of the 2016 presidential election, it’s become almost common knowledge that Ohio Gov. John Kasich is one of the most anti-abortion candidates. During his time as governor, he has enacted more than 16 measures restricting a woman’s right to choose in his state.
His most recent move on that front was in February, when he signed a bill effectively defunding Planned Parenthood in Ohio. Though the bill didn’t mention Planned Parenthood by name, it stated that the Ohio Department of Health could not contract with any organization that “promotes” or “performs” non-therapeutic abortions.
In other words, the bill Kasich signed cut public funding from any organization that performs abortions in cases that don't directly threaten the life of the mother.
What the bill does not do, however, is prevent Planned Parenthood or any other organization from performing abortions. It just makes sure Planned Parenthood can't administer women's health programs in Ohio that they've been in charge of for years -- programs that provide services like HIV testing for minorities; check-ins with mothers to prevent infant mortality; and breast cancer screening for low-income women, to name a few.
ThinkProgress spoke with Kelly Novak, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio's director of education and outreach, about how Kasich's defunding is impacting their non-abortion-related programs. The transcript is below, edited for clarity and length.
ThinkProgress: Can you tell me a little bit about the programs you guys provide that you won't be able to get funding for from the state once the defunding goes into effect? Maybe start with the infant mortality program, since that's a big problem in Ohio.
Kelly Novak: Sure. Our infant mortality program is the Healthy Moms Healthy Babies program. It allows us to work with high risk or at-risk women in the Mahoning valley area of Ohio, which has dangerously high infant mortality rate among African American women.
Our community health workers do in-home visits and teach everything from safe sleep, to birth spacing, to nurturing the baby, to making sure there’s the healthiest experience for the infant as possible, and the mom too.
We've been doing this program for 18 years. We were doing it in one county for many years, and we did such a great job that we were allowed to add a county. So we are actually currently the only agency in the state of Ohio that’s allowed to run the program in two counties, and that’s because we’ve had such a great success rate with the program.
TP: What are some of the other programs that you will now be ineligible to provide?
KN: Our Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) -- that brings comprehensive sexual health education and life readiness skills to youth in foster care and juvenile justice settings. We do that in 15 counties across Ohio.
There are also two programs more embedded with our health services side. There’s our Infertility Prevention Project and STI Prevention program, which allows to provide, at no charge to the patient, STI testing and treatment. Through this program, we annually perform over 64,000 of these STI tests. So we will lose funding for that.
Another program provides breast cancer screening to low-income women that can’t get that service covered by health insurance.
TP: So my understanding is that, under the bill Kasich signed, other health centers can compete for these grants. It’s not like all these programs you're doing will be gone, necessarily, it’s just that Planned Parenthood won’t be administering them anymore. So what’s the problem?
KN: There’s a couple of different prongs to that answer.
First, Planned Parenthood is not the only place that can't provide these programs anymore. Any entity that performs, promotes, or assists with elective abortions cannot contract with the Ohio Department of Health for these programs. So if there’s another entity that performs, promotes, or assists with elective abortions, they then are also legally barred from doing these programs.
So, while other agencies may be able to compete for these grants, giving the sweeping language of the bill, a lot of agencies will not be able to compete for the grants. And even then agencies that are might not want to, or be able to. They might not have the capacity to pick up a few thousand more patients if they can’t manage that.
The second part is that Planned Parenthood has been administering these programs for a long time. And a huge part of providing healthcare and education is building trust. Particularly with the infant mortality program -- we’ve have that program for so long. We have such a presence in the community. And we do home visits. I don’t know how many clients we serve would feel comfortable or ready to let a new agency into their lives. We’ve worked hard for the trust that we’ve earned.
We’re also an ally of the LGBTQ community. They know they can trust Planned Parenthood for a non-judgmental safe experience.
TP: Where does Planned Parenthood go from here, in terms of winding all these programs down?
KN: We are waiting for some directives and guidance from the Ohio Department of Health on how they’re planned to implement the law. That is unclear to us. We have different grant contracts that have different dates of expiration.
All of the contracts will expire by the end of 2017.
TP: It seems Kasich's biggest problem with Planned Parenthood is it's involvement in providing abortions. Does this bill, in any way, effect the actual abortion component of Planned Parenthood?
KN: No. Absolutely not. All of these programs are preventative, providing education and prevention. They have nothing to do with our abortion services.
TP: So you’ll still give out the exact same number of abortions you’d normally give out?
KN: I mean, I don't have a crystal ball, I can’t look into the future. But our surgical serivces will carry on delivering abortion care to the patients who need it. We will also persevere providing education and outreach, it’s just going to obviously look a little different.
TP: And none of these education programs have anything to do with abortions, right?
KN: Actually, all of these programs cover birth control methods and comprehensive sex ed. So I think these education and outreach programs prevent unintended pregnancies. They actually work to prevent abortions.
TP: Will this bill prevent you guys from giving out any other services? Have you guys had to shut down any centers in Ohio, or do you plan to?
KN: No. All our doors are open. And our doors will remain open for the foreseeable future.
In the state of Ohio, those who oppose our values and our mission are coming at us at all possible sides. But we have been, and we are continuing to sustain through attacks on all different fronts. Planned Parenthood will always provide safe and legal abortion services.