Ohio Diverts TANF Dollars to CPCs, Revealing Connection Between Reproductive, Economic Justice

As of June, the unemployment rate for women in the United States inched upward, and the overall rate of long-term unemployed Americans remained virtually unchanged. June also brought with it a rash of state restrictions on reproductive freedom. These economic and reproductive policy trends are deeply intertwined—a fact that is crystallized by Ohio’s recent budget decision to divert welfare cash assistance to anti-choice groups.

As RH Reality Check recently reported, Ohio has passed its budget teeming with abortion regulations that are among the most restrictive in the recent wave of state abortion regulations. Ohio now requires all women seeking an abortion to undergo a trans-abdominal ultrasound, has cut funding for family planning services, and prevents access to public hospitals during a health emergency.

Yet another restriction on choice in Ohio’s budget diverts some of the state’s welfare assistance funds to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs)—groups that oppose abortion and are known not to provide medically accurate information. “This was done in secret at last minute,” Ohio Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) told RH Reality Check. “Republicans did this under cloak of secrecy in the 11th hour.”

This decision highlights the deep and sustaining connection between anti-choice policy and Republican economic policy against poor and struggling families.

When Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) became a federal program in 1996, as part of the major welfare reform legislation signed into law by President Bill Clinton, nobody likely anticipated that the cash assistance program would ever support CPCs. While it has over the years provided cash assistance to struggling families, TANF has been heavily criticized by progressives—in part, because it is structured as a block grant, meaning that states have flexibility in disbursing the funds as they see fit and relative to their fiscal situation. (By contrast, categorical grants like Medicaid have narrower spending guidelines.)

As a result of this flexibility, Ohio, which received $777 million in TANF funding for this fiscal year, is able to direct some of those funds to crisis pregnancy centers. This provision was added to the house version of the state budget and was sustained in the final version.

Per the 1996 law, states have the discretion to use federal TANF funds as long as they are shown to meet four goals established by President Clinton’s 1996 law: provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (2) end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (3) prevent and reduce the incidence of “out-of-wedlock” pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and (4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

These goals are somewhat troubling on their face—particularly the focus on two-parent families, which could lead to further demonization of single mothers—but overall they are relatively broad. Presumably, Ohio legislators who supported this provision of the budget, as well as Republican Gov. John Kasich, based it on the third prong of these requirements: to prevent and reduce the incidence of “out-of-wedlock” pregnancies.

Yet, as the Guttmacher Institute and other groups have found, the combination of abortion restrictions, cuts to family planning, and misuse of TANF dollars in Ohio will only serve to increase the incidence of unintended pregnancies and could make life more dangerous for women—particularly economically struggling women—who do not wish to have a child.

According to the Winter 2013 Guttmacher Policy Review (emphasis added):

A majority of women [surveyed] reported that, over the course of their lives, access to contraception had enabled them to take better care of themselves or their families, support themselves financially, complete their education, or get or keep a job. Women provided similar answers when asked why they were seeking contraceptive services at that moment. The most common reason women gave was not being able to afford to care for a baby at that time (65%); among women with children, nearly all cited their need to care for their current children as a reason for practicing contraception.

In an economy rife with low-wage jobs and long-term unemployment for women, the need for reproductive freedom—and deeper supports to achieve reproductive freedom—is even more critical. Yet, Ohio’s budget achieves exactly the opposite, as if to mock the state’s women.

“CPCs have a history of giving women misinformation,” Jenny Brodie, head of Innovation Ohio’s Women’s Watch program, told RH Reality Check. “Rather than spending TANF dollars to help families, Republicans are diverting money to their ideological agenda and misinformation.”

According to Brodie, Ohio authorizes the director of the state Department of Job and Family Services, currently Michael B. Colbert, to devote TANF dollars to CPCs, though it is unclear how much this recently approved budget will provide the centers. “He could channel a lot into CPCs if he wanted,” Brodie said.

This budgetary decision is just another recent example of how anti-choice claims to value life often juxtapose economic policies that deepen systemic hardships faced by working families and their children.

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  • fiona64

    The vast majority of CPCs have ties to religious adoption agencies. In addition to everything else you cite, this is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause.

  • http://www.danaseilhan.com/ Dana Seilhan

    The CPCs also have ties to adoption agencies. And here’s the thing: just because someone’s poor or unmarried does not mean they don’t want to be parents. They’re deciding that is not a good idea since they can’t support the kids. In other words their “choice” to have an abortion is hardly a choice at all… their backs are against the wall.

    Democrats are no help here. Just the fact that we have TANF now instead of AFDC can be laid at the door of conservative Democrats (hello Bill Clinton) who couldn’t be bothered looking out for the interests of poor families. Now Barack Obama is talking about making adoption easier, when it’s too easy already. (Yes, sorry, it is. Just because you didn’t research all your options and thought you had to pay someone $40k for a kid doesn’t make that untrue.) And Planned Parenthood is even jumping on the adoption bandwagon.

    No one seems to be asking the tough question: Why are we making parenthood into a luxury fit only for the middle and upper classes?

    Part of reproductive freedom is the freedom to HAVE children when you want to have them instead of being forced to wait til your forties by unfair economic policies. These people ARE working, but they can’t earn a living wage. Their one option is going to college, hoping their major leads to a job later and looking forward to tens of thousands of dollars of student-loan debt. Which means they will spend their working lives vulnerable to default and bankruptcy. Also not great circumstances in which to raise a child… unless we do something meaningful to level the playing field.

    When will Democrats have the courage to step up? I want abortion and contraception kept legal. But I want parenthood kept legal too. The kind where you produce your own child, not take someone else’s.