Clinics Sue to Stop New Ohio Abortion Law

     (CN) — Two Ohio affiliates of Planned Parenthood are challenging the constitutionality of a recently passed state law that strips government funding from entities that perform or promote legal abortions.
     Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region seek to prevent the funding restrictions outlined in House Bill 294 from going into effect on May 23. The sued Richard Hodges, director of the Ohio Department of Health, and Timothy Ingram, commissioner of Hamilton County Public Health, in Southern Ohio Federal Court on Wednesday.
     The bill, which Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed into law in February while he was still seeking the Republican nomination for president, states that entities that perform or promote “nontherapeutic” abortions are disqualified from receiving state and federal funds that they would otherwise be eligible to receive.
     Nontherapeutic abortion, as defined by Ohio revised code, is an abortion “that is performed or induced when the life of the mother would not be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or when the pregnancy of the mother was not the result of rape or incest reported to a law enforcement agency.”
     The two Planned Parenthood affiliates claim that the Ohio Department of Health’s interpretation of the statute effectively bars them from receiving state and federal funds used to provide “vital non-abortion services” to thousands of people in Ohio.
     The lawsuit says that the measure cannot be justified on the grounds that it avoids government subsidization of abortion because federal and state law already prohibit government funds from being used for abortion services, a regulation that Planned Parenthood has “rigorously adhered to.”
     The clinics also claim that the measure is not justified by any budgetary impact since the government funds being diverted from Planned Parenthood are theoretically available to other organizations that could apply for the same grant money.
     They seek a court declaration that disqualifying them from receiving government funding “because of their constitutionally protected advocacy in support of safe and legal abortion” violates their constitutional rights to free speech, due process and equal protection.
     Of the 28 Planned Parenthood facilities in Ohio that would lose funding under the law, only three provide abortions, according to local news reports. Its clinics in Ohio reportedly stand to lose about $1.3 million in mostly federal funding.
     According to Wednesday’s lawsuit, the funding being stripped from Planned Parenthood is actually used for health services and education programs in low-income communities. These services include tests and treatments for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, pap smears and other cancer screenings, infant mortality prevention programs and sexual health education programs.
     Planned Parenthood claims that the new law is the latest in a series of recent enactments that have targeted abortion providers.
     According to the complaint, for the past decade the Ohio Legislature and the Ohio Department of Health have tried to shut down abortion providers with requirements related to a state rule that abortions may only be provided in ambulatory surgical facilities that maintain a written transfer agreement with a local hospital, a rule that Planned Parenthood says does nothing to increase patient safety.
     Then, in 2013, Ohio passed a law that prevented public hospitals from entering written transfer agreements with facilities where “nontherapeutic abortions” are performed.
     Ohio laws also require women seeking abortions to make two separate trips to a health center to receive state-mandated information.
     The lawsuit details how one supporter of the bill, Sen. Peggy Lehner, R- Kettering, candidly explained in a senate floor debate that the law amounts to retribution for Planned Parenthood’s decision to be an abortion provider.
     Lehner allegedly said the bill was “necessary only because Planned Parenthood has chosen — you like the word choice — they have chosen to be the leading abortion provider in this nation.”
     “You say, but oh, but that’s only three percent of what they do. Well if it’s only three percent, then perhaps they should be looking to say, let’s drop abortion, and concentrate on all those other things,” she said, according to the complaint.
     Without the funds that the two affiliates receive through federal and state grants, they say their ability to offer life-saving health care services and educational programs to tens of thousands of individuals in low-income communities will be severely limited.
     Planned Parenthood warns that other local health care providers are unlikely to have the infrastructure to absorb its patients, many of whom cannot afford testing and treatment.

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