Ohio Anti-Abortion Groups Split Over Medicaid Expansion

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The state’s largest anti-abortion organization, Ohio Right to Life, has been supportive of Gov. John Kasich. And that didn’t change when he made the decision to go to the Controlling Board, and not the legislature, to expand Medicaid.

“Numerous pro-life governors across the country have expanded Medicaid, and we thank Gov. Kasich for putting women’s healthcare first, the needs of the disabled above politics," said Mike Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life.

But not all anti-abortion groups agree with that stance, and two have signed on to the lawsuit challenging the request to fund Medicaid expansion through the Controlling Board. Paula Westwood is the executive director of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati, and says it’s part of her group’s opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act.

“Medicaid expansion gives states less control of how the funds are used, it gives the federal government more control which doesn’t have vested interest in the states, and it does not make clear that the truly needy are going to receive care," Westwood said.

Jerry Cirino is the chairman of the Board of Cleveland Right to Life. He says he agrees with Westwood’s reasons for opposition, and says it’s not about denying people medical care.

“There is plenty of opportunity for people who need health care to get it today," Cirino said. "I think it’s a red herring that people suggest that we are trying to stop people from getting health care. There’s plenty of health care available today without the need to expand Medicaid.”

This is not the first time these two groups have departed from Ohio Right to Life’s position on an issue.

Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati was among those that broke from the statewide group when Ohio Right to Life opposed the so-called Heartbeat Bill, which banned abortion after a fetal heartbeat was detected. Ohio Right to Life said it felt the bill was unconstitutional. And Cleveland Right to Life was told it could no longer call itself an affiliate of National Right to Life after it adopted a new mission statement against same-sex marriage.

Cirino says it’s no big deal.

“We agree on the fundamental issues," he said. "But on this one we, as in the gay marriage issue we have to take exception. I personally think they’re wrong for supporting the governor’s expansion of Medicaid.”

And Ohio Right to Life’s Gonidakis says the nearly 50 Right to Life chapters survived the battle over the Heartbeat Bill, and will get through this conflict as well.

“That’s OK when we disagree on things, and it’s better than just blindly following one belief system, and it’s good to have robust conversation," he said. "So there is no split -- we’re unified, disagree on tactics and strategies.”

Gonidakis suggests this isn’t similar to what’s happening in the legislature, with conservative and Tea Party Republicans expressing deep anger and resentment over Kasich’s Medicaid expansion. He says all the anti-abortion advocates he knows agree on one thing -- that Kasich is staunchly supportive of their cause, and will continue to be.

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