The laws include putting Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics that provide contraception and women’s health treatment at the bottom of the list for receiving federal money allocated by the Ohio Department of Health. About $480,000 of Family Planning’s approximately $800,000 annual budget is federal money that could be lost in a worst-case scenario.
Pat Berger, Family Planning executive director, said the clinic signed a three-year contract with the department in March. On June 30, Gov. John Kasich signed the provisions into law as part of the Ohio $62 billion, two-year budget. Berger said she doubts the state would violate the contract by de-funding the clinic but is concerned about when the contract expires.
Berger, who testified on May 30 to the state Senate Finance Committee in opposition to the changes, said they don’t make sense. Family Planning — which first opened in 1969 — has 44 years of providing reproductive health care. Berger said it’s wrong for the Republican-led Legislature to place Family Planning and similar clinics behind organizations with little or no experience
“You would think funding decisions would be based on who’s the most capable, who’s the most efficient,” she said. “Their basic philosophy is, if you have a doctor and a medical assistant, anybody can do this.”
Berger said the law only makes sense as an effort to de-fund Planned Parenthood whose health and reproductive services include abortions. However, Mike Gonidakis, Ohio Right to Life president, said the new law wasn’t made to punish Planned Parenthood or family planning centers.
Gonidakis, whose anti-abortion group supported the measure, said about 500,000 poor women use Ohio community health centers annually compared to about 100,000 who use Planned Parenthood. “The money should follow where the poor women are going,” Gonidakis said.
Berger contends it is. She said 80 percent of the 4,860 patients treated at Family Planning last year had incomes at or below 100 percent of federal poverty guidelines. For an individual, that means earning $11,500 annually or less. About 80 percent of patients are young women — a small percentage are men tested for sexually transmitted diseases — and 95 percent live in Lorain County.
Ruth Devereaux, a certified nurse practitioner at Family Planning since 1996, said the typical patient is a woman about 19 or 20 who is sexually active but doesn’t want to get pregnant. Besides contraception, women also want to make sure they or their boyfriends don’t have STDs.
Patients include April Smith, a 30-year-old Elyria resident, wife and mother of an 8-year-old daughter and 11-year old son. Smith, a stay-at-home mother and part-time baby sitter, said she’s used Family Planning since 2004.
Smith said she’s been able to get free and low-cost services at the center and feels more comfortable with the Family Planning staff than she would being treated by a gynecologist. Smith said the staff is very caring and takes extra time to meet her needs. “It’s like home,” she said.
Devereaux said some of the pregnant women she sees were pressured by boyfriends or husbands not to use birth control or weren’t aware they could get free or low cost contraception at Family Planning. Pregnant patients are given a list of adoption and abortion options if they say they are considering not giving birth or not keeping their child. However, Berger said Family Planning doesn’t arrange adoptions or abortions.
With 7 percent or more unemployment as the new normal, need is growing. Berger said when she was hired as executive director in 1999, the clinic served about 2,500 patients annually.
Berger said if Family Planning were de-funded, many of its patients would have nowhere to go. Berger said it’s ironic that Family Planning could be at risk as part of an anti-abortion push. By providing contraception to poor women, many unplanned pregnancies and abortions are prevented.
“We’re probably doing more to prevent abortions than other folks who like to protest in front of abortion clinics,” she said. “We’re trying to help women be healthy and prevent a pregnancy until they’re ready to have a child.”