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New bill furthers Ohio laws that ban abortion funding, could take local government funds


New bill furthers Ohio laws that ban abortion funding, could take local government funds

Apr 19, 2024 | 4:45 am ET
By Susan Tebben
New bill furthers Ohio laws that ban abortion funding, could take local government funds
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A Republican bill recently introduced in the Ohio Legislature seeks a prohibition of state funding for abortion-related services, for which similar statutes and regulations already exist.

State Rep. Josh Williams, R-Sylvania, brought forth House Bill 475 last week. The bill would “prohibit state funds from being given to any entity that supports, promotes, or provides abortions.”

In addition, the bill would require counties and municipal corporations to report abortion-related spending, and to “withhold and reallocate to pregnancy resource centers state local government funds from a county or municipal corporation that engages in such spending,” according the language in the bill.

The bill would take away local government funds if counties or municipalities are found to be providing abortion service reimbursements or “for any related activity, including travel and donations to entities that support, promote or provide abortion.”

The bill does not specify a definition of “pregnancy resource centers,” but it could refer to “crisis pregnancy centers,” which have been supported by religious organizations and Republicans.

That term is often used for heavily-criticized facilities which don’t provide information about abortion services, and some which don’t include medical services as part of their package other than ultrasounds. Crisis pregnancy centers in Ohio have also been found to use debunked medical information, for example, an increased likelihood of breast cancer in pregnant individuals who have had abortion procedures.

Under the bill, an “abortion adjustment fund” would be created, which would hold deposits from the local government fund withheld if funds were used for abortion service reimbursement, or if a county fails to file reports with the auditor of state and the tax commissioner on their spending related to abortion services.

Local government funds have long been suffering under the weight of using less funds to support bigger and bigger budgets. The last 10 years have seen more than $1 billion in funding gaps needed by localities to fund police and EMT services, among other entities upon which their residents depend.

In the 2022-23 budget, the Ohio General Assembly set the local government fund at 1.66% of the state general revenue fund, down from 1.68% in 2020-2021. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich blamed economic slowdowns on the decision to bring the local government fund from 3.68% to 1.66% during his tenure.

The local government fund represented 1.7% of the state’s GRF in the fiscal year 2024-2025 operating budget.

“When revenue distributed through the LGF declines, it puts communities and their taxpayers in a bind – causing local leaders to consider either raising local taxes, cutting services or both,” The Ohio Municipal League wrote in a white paper on the LGF in August 2023, just after the newest budget was passed.

The bill would be an add-on to previous statutes that already regulate state funding related to abortion services. Already on the books in the state are statutes that prevent Ohio Department of Health funding used for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act program, grant funding distributed as part of the “minority HIV/AIDS initiative,” its “personal responsibility education program” and funding for its infant mortality reduction or “infant vitality” initiatives to be used to promote or perform “nontherapeutic abortions.”

There is also a statute within the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ general provisions that explicitly states “state or local public funds shall not be used to subsidize an abortion,” except in the case of rape, incest, or a medical danger to the life of the pregnant individual.

But Case Western Reserve University law professor Jessie Hill, who is also a lead attorney in lawsuits against state abortion-related statutes, says the law changes contained in this new bill “would be even more sweeping because it says that no state funds could go to any entity that performs or promotes or supports abortion, even if they are not using state funds to do so,” and the abortions are not limited under the bill to “nontherapeutic” abortions.

“So, under this proposed law, presumably a public hospital could lose all of its state funds simply for performing an emergency abortion to save a woman’s life,” Hill told the OCJ.

The bill still needs to be assigned to a committee, where it will be subject to public hearings.