Republican presidential hopeful and Ohio Governor John Kasich on Sunday signed a bill that aims to strip funding from Planned Parenthood in the state.
It's a long-expected but controversial move that ignites a debate that seeped into his presidential campaign. Kasich faced a number of protesters this week while campaigning in South Carolina who challenged him on the issue during his events.
After Kasich came in a strong second place in the New Hampshire primary, the Republican assembly in Ohio passed legislation that targets about $1.3 million in funding for Planned Parenthood in the state.
That money helps support screenings for breast cancer, STD testing, programs working to prevent violence against women, and more. State and federal laws already prohibit taxpayer dollars from going to fund abortions, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.
Although the legislation does not specifically name the organization — it cites "any entity that performs or promotes nontherapeutic abortions" — and it's believed that Planned Parenthood will be most affected.
Planned Parenthood immediately fired back to the news, as the organization's president Cecile Richards claimed the bill will "have devastating consequences for women across Ohio."
"It's clear Kasich has no regard for women's health or lives, and will stop at nothing to block health care for the tens of thousands of Ohioans who rely on Planned Parenthood," she said in a statement.
Kasich was repeatedly asked about the issue of Planned Parenthood at his town halls across New Hampshire throughout the summer, fall and winter, and consistently told audiences that he doesn't believe government funding should go to the organization because he says they "discredited" themselves, and adds that he favors funding for women's health through other means.
"The fact is that Governor Kasich has been a strong advocate for women's health issues by helping 260,000 women gain access to health care coverage, pledging a 3-1 state match for a fund for breast and cervical cancer screenings, strengthening programs for sexual assault prevention, funding rape crisis centers for the first time in Ohio's history, helping more women get access to childcare and protecting women from human trafficking," his spokesman Joe Andrews said in a statement.
"The state, through the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has at least 150 other sub-grantees and contractors for the affected grants and projects addressing such issues as infant mortality, violence against women, and minority HIV/AIDS. ODH will reallocate funding from ineligible providers under the new law to other currently eligible providers, ranging from local health departments and community organizations to hospitals and universities."
It was suspected that Kasich might sign the bill before the South Carolina primary, in the hopes that the move would help him there, but instead he signed it one day after finishing with about 8 percent, near the bottom of the pack in the state.
As the bill moved to Kasich's office while he campaigned across South Carolina, the governor's events were interrupted by protesters in Bluffton, Fort Mill, and Mt. Pleasant, who each shouted, "Governor Kasich, why do you hate women's health?"
Kasich responded to each interruption the same way, remarking "as a kid who went to college in 70s, if I don't see a good protest, I ain't living."
"Give 'em a round of applause, they are allowed to come in and scream," he added when he was interrupted at his election eve rally aboard the USS Yorktown off Mt. Pleasant.
The women who interrupted him in Bluffton on Wednesday work for Planned Parenthood, and one of them was from Kasich's home state.
"I'm from the state of Ohio and I'm a little disappointed that Governor Kasich is cutting off preventative health care services from tens of thousands of women in the state of Ohio," said Emma Akpan, a Planned Parenthood field organizer, who was one of three protesters at the event who held signs saying "Who pays for cancer treatment?" "Can I get birth control at the dentist?" and "Why do you hate women's health??"
"The fact that Governor Kasich is cutting off this funding — he is hurting women in Ohio," she added.
Responding to the protesters in Bluffton, Kasich told his crowd, "We are not cutting off women's health and we're not going to fund Planned Parenthood 'cause they put themselves in this pickle.
"What we're gonna do is make sure that women's health will get funding," he said. "I do not mind when young people feel passionately about something. It's a lot better than seeing them on these electronic devices and all that kind of stuff."