FERGUSON: Defunding sends states on dangerous path

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Margaret FergusonWhatever U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ultimately says about the legality of House Bill 1210, Indiana has placed itself in the lead in a dubious race. The General Assembly and the governor have picked a very high-stakes fight with the federal government at the expense of some of the neediest people in the state even while the state struggles to recover from the most difficult economic times since the Great Depression.

Two other states recently joined in, passing laws intended to defund Planned Parenthood and at the same time reignite the culture war—a war in which Gov. Daniels famously declared a truce a year ago.

When the governor was still a potential presidential candidate, observers rightly observed that the arrival of this bill on his desk put him in a difficult situation. Should he veto the bill and anger the social conservative wing of his party in the state (and the nation) or should he sign the bill, despite his purported desire to shift his party’s attention away from divisive wedge issues?

We know now what the governor knew on May 10 when he signed the legislation—that he has rejected a run for the White House. Daniels’ decision to sign the bill therefore raises a variety of questions about his avowed fiscal conservatism.

The state will spend untold amounts of money to defend against the (inevitable) lawsuit from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

And the state runs the risk of losing billions in federal dollars. The federal government has already asserted that Indiana’s law violates federal statute (which governs the spending of federal dollars, after all). The most facile reading of the relevant law makes this clear.

Much more worrying to me is the fact that many of the poorest women (and men) in the state will be denied basic health services at least temporarily. Planned Parenthood is the only provider of vital reproductive health services in many communities.

The assertion of advocates for HB 1210 that other service providers are available to fill the void for Medicaid patients who received services at Planned Parenthood is either disingenuous or naïve. It is conceivable that other service providers would eventually arise if the law stays in place, but this will be time-consuming and seems unlikely as this is not exactly a lucrative endeavor.

Unlike other landmark Supreme Court cases, Roe vs. Wade remains contentious over 30 years after it was handed down. Various subsequent cases have modified Roe and opened up room for states and Congress to institute a variety of conditions upon abortion services. Lively debates have surrounded these policies across the country to say the least.

Some states have also purposefully passed laws that violate Roe with the express purpose of taking a case to the Supreme Court. Such a case might very well overturn Roe and send the question of whether women will continue to have access to abortions back explicitly into the political, as opposed to the judicial, arena.

This story has been unfolding over the last decades as both state legislatures and Congress have considered and sometimes passed new restrictions.

However, taking the abortion fight into the arena of Medicaid funding is an unfortunate and dangerous development in this battle. Federal dollars cannot be spent to fund abortions (except in a very few circumstances) and Planned Parenthood has never employed public funds for such purposes.

So the state’s withdrawal of Medicaid dollars will not further the goals of abortion opponents. It will affect only the provision of fundamental health services such as cervical, ovarian and breast cancer screening, the provision of contraceptives and testing for sexually transmitted diseases to those unable to afford such services from private providers.

The fact that other states are following in Indiana’s footsteps means we are not the only state willing to wage a battle over abortion rights over the bodies of our poorest citizens.•


Ferguson is an associate professor of political science in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI with expertise in state politics. Views expressed here are the writer’s. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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