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Ohio abortion services still struggle with funding as anti-abortion causes get more from state


Ohio abortion services still struggle with funding as anti-abortion causes get more from state

Jan 26, 2024 | 4:50 am ET
By Susan Tebben
Ohio abortion services still struggle with funding as anti-abortion causes get more from state
Abortion rights advocates at the Ohio Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes. Republish photo only with original article.)

The landscape following the passage of Ohio’s abortion rights amendment shows state funding sources going to anti-abortion groups and causes, while abortion rights groups struggle with decreasing funding and increasing demand.

State legislators have already made moves in hopes of undermining the enforcement or effectiveness of the amendment, which 57% of voters approved in November to allow abortion in the state up to fetal viability, and enshrine other rights like fertility treatment and miscarriage care into the Ohio Constitution.

Most recently, state Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, continued her campaign, along with Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia, to bring a bill that would take authority over the amendment out of the hands of the judicial branch and leave it to the legislative branch to handle. This proposal flies in the face of traditional checks and balances in government and the authority of judicial review.

House Speaker Jason Stephens previously said the bill didn’t have much hope in the General Assembly. However, the House Rules and Reference Committee, of which he is the chair, sent the bill to the Civil Justice Committee at the beginning of January.

The struggle for support

Though abortion rights groups are still riding on the high of establishing constitutional rights back in November, funding those services is still a struggle, especially as demand heightens.

The Abortion Fund of Ohio, which directs individuals to abortion services or resources, cited “the dramatic drop-off in funds and increase in patient need” as reason for a pause in its direct patient funding until Feb. 1.

“The reality is that the crisis of abortion access has only grown, even as public interest post-Dobbs (the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned nationwide abortion legalization) fades,” the fund said on its website. “Abortion and reproductive freedom is now enshrined in Ohio’s constitution, but thousands of patients struggle to access that right.”

In a report released this month from the National Network of Abortion Funds, there was a 39% increase across the country in requests for abortion access support since the Dobbs decision, with a jump of 178% in “practical support funding,” including transportation and child care.

Locally, Abortion Fund Ohio said its patient navigation team received requests from 4,365 patients last year, a 250% increase from 2022 and a 440% increase from 2021.

AFO’s patient navigation team members are still available, along with a legal access helpline, even though the group is temporarily unable to directly fund patient needs.

Some of the funding problems stem directly back to the fight to get the constitutional amendment passed, according to AFO board member Aileen Day.

“The millions of dollars directed towards Ohio’s abortion ballot initiative, though crucial, has inadvertently shifted funds away from direct abortion services like AFO’s,” Day said. “Post-ballot, we’re not seeing these funds return, which is alarming given AFO’s record-high funding requests statewide.”

Members of Faith Choice Ohio, another pro-reproductive rights group in the state, have had phones “ringing off the hook with requests from patients in need of support, particularly funding to help with travel costs associated with abortion care,” the group’s executive director, Elaina Ramsey, told the Capital Journal.

Faith Choice Ohio’s “Jubilee Fund,” which was introduced in June 2022 as a “faith-based, practical support abortion fund,” has been carrying the increasing load of demand for resources.

“We’re doing fine for now at The Jubilee Fund, but ask me again in a few years,” Ramsey said.

Her group, and others she’s spoken with across the country, have seen contributions decrease since the galvanizing force from the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022.

“The mood money has dried up, including in Ohio, even after the momentous win for abortion access and reproductive rights with Issue 1 in November,” Ramsey said.

Faith Choice Ohio saw a 30% decrease in year-end giving last year, according to Ramsey, compared to “steady giving rates” in the last five years.

“I suspect that people have moved on and don’t realize the critical need for sustainable abortion funding, even after a major victory like Issue 1,” she said.

Ramsey sees Ohio as “a haven and refuge for abortion seekers,” from surrounding states without constitutional amendments or with stricter abortion regulations.

“I anticipate that the demand for abortions in Ohio will increase in the coming years — but it’s unclear whether abortion funds will be able to keep up for the long haul,” Ramsey said.

State anti-abortion support

As abortion funds struggle, the state is still working to help anti-abortion causes, namely in the form of increasing funding sources.

The Ohio Parenting and Pregnancy Program has been a part of Ohio Revised Code since 2013, according to the state’s laws and administrative rules.

The program was established to “promote childbirth, parenting and alternatives to abortion” by providing funding through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to entities “whose primary purpose is to promote childbirth, rather than abortion,” according to the language in the ORC.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services can provide funding through the OPPP to those who meet certain required criteria, such as being a not-for-profit entity and providing pregnant individuals with no-cost services. Another requirement is that those receiving funding are not “involved in or associated with any abortion activities, including providing abortion counseling or referrals to abortion clinics, performing abortion-related medical procedures or engaging in pro-abortion advertising.”

The national reproductive rights advocacy group Equity Forward tracks funding by state legislatures to anti-abortion efforts, and found that Ohio more than doubled its funding in the 2023-2025 fiscal biennium, specifically to the Parenting and Pregnancy Program.

In the last biennial budget, Ohio put a total of $6 million into the program over the two-year budget term. In the current budget, for fiscal years 2023 to 2025, the state is funding the program at $7 million per year.

The program also got a boost straight from Gov. Mike DeWine in 2022, when an executive order he signed brought $13 million from the TANF budget into the program.

Funding programs in this way concerns reproductive rights groups, because the money can go to religious-based organizations or “crisis pregnancy centers,” which focus on deterring pregnant individuals from considering abortion, sometimes by providing debunked or medically-questionable information.