Last week, pro-choice campaigners celebrated after voters used the ballot box to oppose right-wing Republican candidates with extreme views on abortion, while young women voted overwhelmingly for the return of a president who spoke of reproductive rights.
But on Wednesday, state Republicans have once again been accused of a “war against women”, after an Ohio state committee voted in favour of a bill which will put Planned Parenthood, the largest reproductive and sexual healthcare provider in the US, at the bottom of the state’s priority system for federal family planning funds.
Pro-life activists have long campaigned for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, because they also provide abortions. The decision could affect as many as 100,000 women who depend on the health provider.
Two committee rooms and an overflow room were packed with Planned Parenthood supporters and pro-choice activists, according to observers who spoke to the Guardian. They chanted “Hear us now” in the halls outside the committee where the bill was being heard.
But the vote split along party lines, 11 Republicans to nine Democrat and the Ohio House Health and Aging Committee passed House Bill 298. It will now go to the full floor of the House, which has a Republican super-majority and is likely to be passed.
Nina Turner, the Democratic state senator for Cleveland, said: “For the life of me, I cannot understand why Republicans are so intent on taking away from women the right to make their own choices about their bodies.”
“Voters soundly rejected the foolishness of the radical right on election day in favor of the dignity of American women, but some lawmakers must not have heard.”
Voters in Missouri and Indiana voted for the Democratic candidates and against Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, two Republican candidates who had caused anger with their comments against abortion, even in cases of rape.
Turner, who introduced a protest bill earlier this year that would restrict men’s ability to get a Viagra prescription, wore a provocative T-shirt to a press conference on Tuesday on the Ohio bill, with the acronym for the GOP which read: “Get Out of my Panties”
Exit polls from last weeks election suggest that 56% of Ohio voters believe abortion should be legal all or most of the time. Some 39% said it should be illegal.
Jerid Kurtz, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic party, said that opposition to abortion was a key priority, over job creation, for the state governor, John Kasich. Kurtz said that more than 100,000 women in the state depend on Planned Parenthood for healthcare, which includes HIV and cancer screening as well as contraception.
Kurtz said: “Governor John Kasich cannot claim ignorance about this latest attack on women, since he sat down with state legislative leaders to personally calendar out priorities for the Statehouse’s final days of 2012.”
He went on: “After appointing opponents of women’s health care to top positions in his administration, including seats on the State Medical Board and Supreme Court Vacancy committee, Kasich’s silence on this push to defund Planned Parenthood is no surprise, and sends a blunt message that job creation is not his top priority. The Governor is building a record that sends an incredibly clear message, women just can’t trust John Kasich with their healthcare.”
Kasich recently appointed Michael Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right To Life, to the Ohio state medical board.
Kurtz, who set up an email campaign against the bill, said that more than 200,000 emails were sent opposing the bill to the governor’s office.
Kellie Copeland, executive director for Naral Pro-Choice Ohio, described the bill as a “legislative and ideological witch-hunt against one of the top medical providers in this country.”
She told supporters that Republican legislators were “putting ideology over the marketplace. They are interjecting themselves into the doctor-patient relationship.”
She told the Guardian: “Its pretty obvious that they didn’t get the message on Tuesday. But the crew down where in Columbus didn’t bother much about what women think before the election. It’s obvious it’s part of their agenda.”
In a press release from Ohio Right To Life, which backed the bill, Gonidakis said: “It can’t be ignored that Planned Parenthood is one of the largest pigs at the taxpayer trough, yet fails to provide certain and basic healthcare services offered at most of the other 300 clinics. It’s time to stand up against the special interests, abortion lobbyists and their allies and instead support poor and uninsured women and their kids.”
The stated purpose of House Bill 298 is to “prioritise” funding, including federal funds, for family planning purposes. It calls for eligible public entities or other community health groups that help uninsured and underinsured women to receive money from the state departments of Health and Job and Family Services before other providers like Planned Parenthood.
The bill stalled earlier this year amid concern it could divert funding from hospitals.
The state legislature may also reconsider the so-called “heartbeat bill” which would ban abortions after the foetal heartbeat is detected, with no exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother.