Judge stops Ohio’s attack on Planned Parenthood

The Ohio legislature and Gov. John Kasich jumped on the anti-Planned Parenthood bandwagon after a bogus “expose” was released by an activist group last July alleging that fetal body parts were being sold. Ohio was one of 24 states that enacted or proposed measures to defund Planned Parenthood, even though none of the funding they were cutting had anything to do with providing abortions.

In Ohio, Attorney General Mike De-Wine conducted an investigation of the body-parts-selling allegation that was based on secretly recorded and heavily edited videotape by a group called Center for Medical Progress. He found no evidence that body parts had been sold in Ohio.

Nonetheless, the General Assembly passed and Kasich signed a bill that prohibited funds going from the Ohio Department of Health to any entity that performs or promotes abortions. It was clearly aimed at Planned Parenthood.

The result was the loss of $1.4 million in funding for Planned Parenthood programs that provided:

HIV/AIDS testing and education in minority communities

Testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases

Education for young people about abstinence and contraception

Breast- and cervical-cancer screening for low-income women

Outreach and care to pregnant women to help decrease infant mortality

Prevention and education programs aimed at reducing sexual violence against women.

Most of the money for those programs came from the federal government, and most of the contracts to provide services were won by Planned Parenthood through a competitive-bidding process.

The law reflected a myopic viewpoint held by too many elected officials. It was wrong because it violated the Constitution, and because the ongoing vendetta against Planned Parenthood is costing women their lives.

In barring implementation of the law, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett in Cincinnati found that the law violated the free-speech and due-process constitutional rights of Planned Parenthood by penalizing the organization for supporting a woman’s right to an abortion.

The state argued that no person or entity has a constitutional right to government funding. But in this case, the state was creating a second-class status for an entity based on its exercising a constitutional right. Imagine a law that said anyone who supported gun ownership or freedom of religion was ineligible for state funding of any of its programs. The principle is no different when applied to Planned Parenthood, but anti-abortion forces are blinded by their fervor.

Now, what about the danger to women’s lives that we mentioned? The danger goes beyond just the obvious one that comes when the state denies the public access to those six programs involved in the Ohio suit. Consider what is happening in Texas, a state that began denying funding to Planned Parenthood years before the fraudulent Center for Medical Progress tapes.

A recent study on U.S. Maternal Mortality Rates conducted for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found such a dramatic increase in maternal deaths in Texas that it excluded the Texas statistics from its national averages rather than skew the results.

Texas slashed funding for family planning in 2011, forcing the closure of 82 family planning clinics, about a third of which were operated by Planned Parenthood. In 2010, the study said, 72 women died of complications from pregnancy and childbirth. In 2012, that number more than doubled to 148.

It is impossible to ascribe all those deaths to a cut in funding for programs serving pregnant women, but it is also impossible to ignore the implication. And while Texas was the most dramatic example of more pregnant women dying, maternal mortality rates for women in the United States have been rising, not falling, since 2000.

Playing politics with abortion is playing with women’s lives. And when funds are cut for prenatal programs, it is playing with the lives of infants who are born less healthy than they could have been.

Judge Barrett has done the state of Ohio and its women a favor. Attorney General DeWine should recognize that fact and drop any plans for an appeal. The state should be concentrating its resources on helping people, not squandering them on defending the indefensible.