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Senate Puts Abortion Provisions In State Budget Bill

The Ohio Senate today is expected to vote on its version of a 61.7 billion dollar state budget bill that revamps Governor John Kasich's school funding proposal and restores a tax cut for small businesses. The Senate Finance Committee approved the budget bill along party lines Wednesday after making a host of changes, including boosting education funding over what the House supported and stripping out what was left of Kasich's proposed statewide income-tax cut in favor of small-business exemptions. Neither chamber supported Kasich's proposals for broader tax reform, including expanding the state's sales-tax base and increasing the severance taxes on oil and gas drillers. Senate approval will send the bill into conference committee talks that must wrap up by a June 30th deadline. Buried in the Senate version are many things that seemingly have nothing to do with state spending, including provisions related to abortion. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.

The Senate version of the budget would require all ambulatory surgical centers to have agreements with hospitals to transfer patients, but bans agreements to transfer patients from abortion clinics to public hospitals. And Kellie Copeland from NARAL Pro Choice Ohio says the Department of Health can close clinics that don’t have transfer agreements.
“This is about paperwork, a bureaucratic way that they can basically, if they make abortion illegal, they can make it virtually impossible to access by closing every clinic they can get their hands on.”

But that’s not how Mike Gonidakis with Ohio Right to Life sees it.
“What we’re seeing here is the abortion industry trying to cause a stir and create a problem where none exists in order to not be regulated. They don’t want to be regulated, and this legislation will do this. If this state – or any state – oversteps their boundaries in their pursuit of doing their job, that’s why we have a court system in place to bring them back in line and protect rights.”

Copeland says pro-choice activists fight to protect women’s health, and so they support clinics being held to the highest medical standards. And she says she’s also concerned about a provision that sends some federal temporary aid for needy families or TANF funds to so-called crisis pregnancy centers. Those facilities are operated by anti-abortion groups, and abortion rights advocates say they often give out inaccurate information. But Gonidakis says he expect such criticism from those activists.
“Abortions are at a historic low in the state of Ohio, and any time they can’t perform abortion, they’re losing money to their bottom line. More women are going to the over 125 pregnancy centers as opposed to the less than 30 abortion clinics. So of course they’re going to say that because they’re losing market share.”

But Copeland says taken with the stripping of state funds to Planned Parenthood centers, she feels the budget is bad news.
“Ohio women are looking at a budget that, if they want to avoid an unplanned pregnancy and go to a family planning center, it may be closed; if they need to have an abortion for whatever reason there might not be one in their community any more because those have been closed, and if they choose to parent a child and need a little assistance that money may be gone as well.”

Democrats had proposed amendments to make changes in these provisions, but they were tabled. The vote for the Senate budget went along party lines.

Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.