Under Gov. John Kasich (R), countless people in Ohio have lost access to all forms of reproductive health care. Nonetheless, Kasich curiously claimed during a town hall in Waukesha, Wisconsin, that he would find it “absolutely unacceptable” for women to be unable to access reproductive health care.
“Women’s health is very important to us, and we’re not cutting the funding,” the Republican presidential candidate said during the Tuesday event when an audience member prompted him to speak about the services Planned Parenthood offers beyond abortion.
“Look, women’s health is important. We’ve spent a lot of time, attention, on infant mortality,” Kasich continued. “But that’s an organization that has largely discredited itself, but that doesn’t mean we can have you not being able to get the help that you need as a woman. I mean that would be absolutely unacceptable, and we’re not going to do that in our state and I wouldn’t do it like that in the country.
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But it’s unclear what Kasich finds “unacceptable.” When Kasich signed a bill in February cutting $1.3 million in funding to Planned Parenthood, he did not cut funds for abortion care; those services are not covered by state money. Instead, he slashed funds for the organization’s sexually transmitted infection testing, mother and newborn care, and anti-domestic violence programs. As Rewire reported at the time, the cuts also targeted Planned Parenthood’s infant mortality program—an issue Kasich falsely claimed during Tuesday’s town hall to have addressed.
Both the measure to defund Planned Parenthood and Kasich’s justification at the town hall in signing it were based on false claims made by the anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP). Numerous state investigations found no evidence of CMP’s allegations that Planned Parenthood broke fetal tissue donation laws. Instead, CMP’s leader David Daleiden is now under felony indictment for breaking the law in pursuing these false claims.
Though Kasich noted Tuesday that the funds were redirected, not eliminated entirely, critics of the measure said they did not believe the gap in services created by this measure could be easily filled. “If Planned Parenthood goes away as a provider, there will be a void of services in our community,” Kelli Arthur Hykes, the health policy director for Columbus Public Health, Ohio said in a statement when the measure was signed. “We don’t have the capacity to fill that void.”
The Columbus Dispatch similarly reported that health experts in the state were concerned about whether community clinics “had capacity” to provide proper care should funding restrictions be enacted:
Claire Boettler, president of the Ohio Public Health Association, which represents those working in public health departments, universities, and community-based organizations, urged “careful consideration” of whether entities that do not perform abortions have the capacity to provide care for thousands of women impacted by any funding restrictions.
“For example, women currently enrolled in the [Breast and Cervical Cancer Project] program may have a longer waiting period for an appointment that could result in later-stage diagnosis of breast or cervical cancer,” she wrote.
This coincides with countless other health officials and experts across the country who say the community health centers pushed by conservatives as alternatives to Planned Parenthood could not fully absorb the organization’s patients should it lose funding.
Kasich has used his tenure as governor to relentlessly attack women’s health on multiple fronts. In November, an Associated Press investigation discovered Kasich’s aides had played a critical role in drafting restrictive anti-abortion language, previously attributed solely to the state legislature, in Ohio’s 2013 budget requiring licensing regulations for clinics. This led to the closure of half of the state’s outpatient abortion clinics. The bill also contained provisions mandating ultrasounds for abortions, blocking funding for rape crisis centers that provide information about abortion, and “re-prioritiz[ing]” family planning funds away from Planned Parenthood to crisis pregnancy centers, which routinely lie to patients.
Since taking office in 2011, Kasich has signed at least 16 anti-choice measures, including a later abortion ban. He also endangered women’s health by appointing Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis to the state medical board in 2012.
“We’ve never had a governor in my lifetime that was laser-focused on the issue of life like John Kasich is today,” Gonidakis said, according to FiveThirtyEight. “John Kasich deserves the credit for creating an environment and atmosphere here for the 65 [anti-abortion] members of the House and the 23 [anti-abortion] members of our Senate to pass a litany of pro-life bills.”