Ohio officials grapple with Planned Parenthood restrictions

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio law that strips government funding from Planned Parenthood is forcing health officials in some cities and counties to scramble to find replacement providers to perform cancer screenings, promote teen pregnancy prevention and provide prenatal care to women, along with other services.

In Canton, the city is grappling with the law’s impact on efforts to provide HIV testing and counseling for residents. The city has seen an increase in HIV diagnoses among young African American men, and Planned Parenthood reported the newest cases among the hard-to-reach population, said Jim Adams, Canton’s health commissioner.

“We have not been really able to find a suitable provider to take their place,” Adams said in an interview.

The law is set to take effect on Monday. Planned Parenthood has asked a federal judge to temporarily block the restrictions from being enforced.

Ohio’s law targets the more than $1 million that Planned Parenthood gets through the state’s health department. The money, which is mostly federal, supports a variety of programs that include efforts to reduce infant mortality, prevent violence against women and provide breast and cervical cancer screenings. The law bars such public funds from going to entities that perform or promote abortions.

Last month, the Ohio Department of Health sent letters to Planned Parenthood affiliates around the state alerting them that certain funding for their prevention and health programs was being terminated “as of 11:59 p.m. on May 22” because of the law’s restrictions, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Associated Press through a records request.

The state’s health department also told several city and county health officials that they could no longer contract with Planned Parenthood for certain services because of the law’s restrictions. In letters last month, the state directed the local agencies to partner with other entities to continue to get the funding.

Health agencies in Trumbull and Mahoning counties contract with Planned Parenthood as part of an infant mortality program in northeast Ohio. The two counties received roughly $350,000 from a grant that lasts through September to help women during their pregnancies and up to two years after they give birth, according to Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit.

Because of the law’s restrictions, the counties’ officials ultimately decided to have Mahoning County take over the program for the remainder of the grant. The county hopes to hire the same program staff, so the families getting services wouldn’t see as much of an interruption.

“The law has caused quite a burden just to finish out four months,” said Sandy Swann, the nursing director for the Trumbull County Health Department.

Mahoning County Health Commissioner Patricia Sweeney said Planned Parenthood had been administering the program “marvelously” for at least 20 years and most of the program’s community health workers had been doing the job for years. The law created uncertainty for those workers’ jobs and the people they care for, she said.

Cuyahoga County’s health department contracts with Planned Parenthood to train staff that works with at-risk youth in the foster care system as part of an effort to prevent teen pregnancy. The county department plans to absorb those responsibilities as a result of the law, with minimal impact, said Terry Allan, health commissioner for Cuyahoga County.

In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region claim the new law violates their constitutional rights by denying them the funds “in retaliation for” providing abortions. It names the state’s health director as a defendant.

Planned Parenthood is a national target because of its role as the largest U.S. abortion provider.

Federal law and the laws of most states already prevent public money from paying for abortions except in rare circumstances, but the recent defunding bills prohibit state money for any services by an organization that also provides abortions.

Nationwide, according to Planned Parenthood, politicians in 24 states have either enacted or proposed measures since last July that target the organization with defunding. In most of those states, the cuts haven’t taken effect. Some have been blocked by the courts or put on hold over litigation. A defunding bill in Virginia was vetoed.

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