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Published: Friday, 4/20/2012

Protect women's health

Ohio's Republican Party seems intent on handing Democrats the votes of working, poor, and elderly people, minorities -- and now women.

In recent months, the Republican-led General Assembly has pushed bills that would have restricted collective bargaining, made it harder for many Ohioans to vote, and banned nearly all abortions. Fortunately, reason prevailed and these efforts failed.

Now, though, GOP lawmakers want to push Planned Parenthood to the bottom of the priority list among groups that receive federal family-planning dollars administered by state government. The move amounts to a bone thrown to Columbus' anti-abortion lobby, even though Planned Parenthood has been prohibited from using federal taxpayer dollars for abortion services since the 1970s.

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Last year, Planned Parenthood's 32 Ohio clinics got $1.7 million in federal aid. This year, they might get nothing; their requests would not even be considered until after public health departments, federally approved community health clinics, and private community health clinics are funded.

Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis says the funding change is necessary so that "Ohio's abortion industry will no longer feed at the taxpayer trough." But that's grossly misleading. Just three Planned Parenthood clinics in the state -- and none in northwest Ohio -- perform abortions. Abortion procedures account for no more than 4 percent of the services provided by the clinics.

Abortions have been declining in most states for more than a decade. In 2009, 28,721 abortions were performed in Ohio, 40 percent fewer than in 1980.

That's largely because fewer teenagers are getting pregnant. Nationally, 367,752 teenagers gave birth in 2010 -- the lowest number since 1946. In Ohio, the number of 15 through 19-year-olds who gave birth declined by 14 percent between 2007 and 2010, to 34.2 teens per 1,000.

Planned Parenthood serves about 100,000 -- mostly female -- Ohioans a year. Many of them are poor; some have no health-care options.

The vast majority of the services Planned Parenthood provides are preventive: screenings for cancer, pregnancy, and HIV; testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and birth control. Its clinics also offer advice on family planning and prenatal care.

The advocacy group Innovation Ohio says the proposed GOP budget measure would "bar Planned Parenthood from receiving funds for ... breast and cervical cancer screening, the Violence Against Women Act, infertility prevention, and minority HIV/AIDS programs." If the amendment becomes law, it might even endanger federal funding of Ohio's entire family planning program.

Planned Parenthood is part of the solution on issues of women's health, helping to reduce the number of abortions. The proposed legislation, which a Republican lawmaker calls "fair and balanced," is part of the women's health problem.

If Ohio's Republican lawmakers can't be part of the solution, they should at least stay out of the way.

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