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Op-Ed: How defunding Planned Parenthood hurts Akron’s already ‘abysmal’ infant mortality rates

by Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron)

emilia sykesIn Ohio, more babies die before their first birthday than in all but three other states. With premature birth, low birthweight, and sleep related deaths cited as the top three culprits, Ohio’s alarming infant mortality crisis shows few signs of slowing. Even worse, the infant death disparity is even worse for Black babies. In 2013, Ohio ranked led the nation in deaths of Black babies before their first birthday.

The rate of infant mortality in the city of Akron is equally abysmal. Akron communities in the 44307 and 44320 zip codes have two of the highest infant mortality rates in the state, and country.

Instead of confronting the issue head-on, politicians in Columbus continue to put politics ahead of people. The latest example of this occurred last week when the House voted to send House Bill 294, an extreme, partisan piece of legislation that defunds Planned Parenthood to the governor.

The GOP-controlled House’s passage of House Bill 294 comes amidst a nationwide Republican push to defund Planned Parenthood after heavily edited, politically motivated videos surfaced appearing to show the organization discussing the sale of fetal tissue for research. The videos have since been widely discredited and the video’s instigators were recently indicted by a grand jury on felony charges. In Ohio, two Republican-led investigations into Ohio’s Planned Parenthood showed the organization’s activities are only in furtherance of women’s access to comprehensive healthcare.

Republican legislators touted two amendments added to House Bill 294 as measures that will help reduce Ohio’s infant mortality rate. The amendments provide no new funding and simply shift around existing monies for infant mortality. The amendments amount to using a Band-Aid to cover up a gunshot wound.

But Band-Aids don’t change the serious damage that House Bill 294 still does to tens of thousands of at-risk women by stripping away federal grant money to essential life saving health care programs and procedures.

Planned Parenthood provides comprehensive healthcare to some 80,000 patients each year, in Ohio, including over 13,000 patient visits right here in Akron where the Planned Parenthood clinic sees more patients than any other site in the state.

By defunding Planned Parenthood, the state is defunding vital infant mortality prevention programs, along with sex education programs, HIV/AIDS testing, breast and cervical cancer screenings and domestic violence education programs. Furthermore, this legislations stands to limit funding to local health departments, hospitals and other organizations that partner with Planned Parenthood to provide valuable community resources.

As the primary provider for many low-income women, Planned Parenthood plays a crucial role in the effort to address the infant mortality crisis. Planned Parenthood has the skills, knowledge and expertise to help address racial health disparities and educate new and expecting mothers on best practices to prevent tragic infant fatalities, while also providing  contraceptive options to women, as adequate birth spacing helps lower the risk of infant mortality.

Women in Ohio deserve to have full access to all their healthcare needs, including reproductive services. This includes the freedom to make decisions for themselves and their families without first seeking the approval of Ohio legislature.

The Ohio General Assembly is spending far too much time vilifying Planned Parenthood and politicizing attempts to defund them. The legislature needs to get back to the basics – getting people back to work, providing for the safety and welfare our citizens, and creating an environment of opportunity for all Ohioans. Defunding Planned Parenthood for political gain won’t get us there and it won’t reduce our infant mortality rate.


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