Last month, two seemingly unrelated reports came out. The first involved a series of leaked videos from an anti-abortion activist group that purported to show Planned Parenthood employees trying to sell the tissue and organs of aborted fetuses. The second was a report updating Ohio’s abysmal record on infant mortality rates. Now, at first glance, these two stories have nothing to do with one another. That is, unless you’re Representative Bill Patmon of Cleveland.
On July 28, Rep. Patmon stood on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse to announce that he had introduced House Bill 294, a bill that would bar the state from issuing state and certain federal funds from “any entity that performs or promotes elective abortions.” Apparently Rep. Patmon and his primary co-sponsor, Rep. Margaret Conditt (R-Liberty Township), decided that the controversy over the Planned Parenthood videos provided perfect cover for them to try and defund the organization in Ohio.
Now, in order for this bill to make any legal sense, Reps. Patmon and Conditt need for you to ignore a few details. Like the fact that Planned Parenthood devotes just 3% of its resources to performing abortion services. Or the fact that Ohio law already places Planned Parenthood at the end of the line for state funding. Or the fact that, under provisions in the Medicaid law, the state has no authority to bar patients from visiting the health care provider of their choice. But Rep. Patmon has never been one to let facts get in the way of a chance to preach at Ohioans.
But the truly galling part of this bill is the way that Reps. Patmon and Conditt are attempting to cloak it as a way to address Ohio’s infant mortality crisis. In an email to colleagues, the two claim that the funding taken from Planned Parenthood would be shifted to “empower groups who are committed to combating Ohio’s atrocious statistics [on infant mortality].”
As recent reports from the Ohio Department of Public Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show, the state ranks near the bottom – 45th out of 50 – when it comes to infant mortality rates. While Ohio’s infant mortality rate did decline somewhat in 2013 – down to 7.33 deaths per 1,000 live births from 7.6 in 2012 – it remains 21% above the national average of 5.96 deaths. The issue is drastically worse in Cuyahoga County, which had a rate of 8.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. For Cleveland, that number was a depressing 13.0 deaths in 2013. The 2012 rate for African Americans in Cleveland was even higher at 15.73 deaths per 1,000 live births, more than 2.5 times the national rate.
Of course, HB 294 will do absolutely nothing to address this ongoing issue. On the contrary, it could actually make the problem worse. As I noted, Planned Parenthood devotes just 3% of its resources to abortion. The other 97% goes towards a variety of other medical services, including sex ed, contraception, STD and HIV/AIDS testing and treatment, cancer screenings and referrals, pregnancy tests, and referrals for prenatal care for pregnant women. Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio treated nearly 57,000 patients last year alone. Many of the patients who rely on Planned Parenthood’s services are low-income and have few other options. As Rep. Gretta Johnson (D-Akron) stated, “This legislation is a purely political maneuver that will further restrict access to necessary healthcare for Ohio’s women, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged and already struggling to meet their basic health needs.”
That Rep. Patmon would place his ideology above the interests of his constituents is hardly surprising. This is the same man who co-sponsored the “Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act” in 2013-2014, a bill that would have allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBT individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs. Patmon eventually backed down, but only after drawing intense criticism. So don’t fall for the (D) that comes after his name. Bill Patmon is a Democrat in the same way that Adam Sandler is funny – some people may have believed that back in the 90s, but we should all know better by now.
Rather than actually stand up for the interests of his constituents, Rep. Patmon is more interested in lecturing them. While announcing HB 294, Rep. Patmon had the nerve to attack African Americans in Northeast Ohio – the majority of people in his House district – for being concerned over excessive use of police force within their communities. “You hear a lot of demonstrations across the country now about Black Lives Matter,” he said. “Well, they skipped one place – they should be in front of Planned Parenthood.”
Perhaps Rep. Patmon has to use condescension to cover up the fact that he has done nothing to address the actual challenge of infant mortality within his district. Instead, he has consistently stood up for the interests of the fossil fuel industry to pollute poor and minority communities throughout the state. The third largest contributor to Rep. Patmon’s campaigns for the Statehouse has been FirstEnergy. That’s the same FirstEnergy that operated the Lake Shore Power Plant on Cleveland’s east side for 104 years before it was forced to shut down this April in response to the Obama administration’s mercury regulations. That plant sits just upwind from much of Rep. Patmon’s district, including neighborhoods like University Circle and Kinsman that have infant mortality rates higher than Bangladesh, Haiti, North Korea, or Pakistan. In 2012, the NAACP ranked Lake Shore as the 6th worst coal plant in the country for environmental justice, given its high levels of pollution and proximity to tens of thousands of low-income persons of color.
Yet, if Rep. Patmon actually cared about infant mortality, as he claims, he would step up and tackle air pollution. A litany of studies have demonstrated a clear link between in utero and neonatal exposure to air pollution and a host of negative health outcomes, including low birth weight, preterm birth, and infant mortality. In a landmark 2003 study, researchers Kenneth Chay and Michael Greenstone explored the impacts of the decline in particulate matter pollution as a result of the 1980-1982 recession and changes in infant mortality rates. Their results were stunning. They found that the decline in air pollution was responsible for 80% of the total reduction in neonatal mortality in the United States during that period. In their conclusion, they state [FYI, TSP means total suspended particulates, another name for coarse particulate matter]:
We find that a 1 µg/m3 reduction in TSPs is associated with 4-7 fewer infant deaths per 100,000 live births at the county level…Most of these effects are driven by fewer deaths occurring within one month of birth, suggesting that fetal exposure during pregnancy is a biological pathway. Consistent with this, we find significant effects of TSPs reductions on deaths within 24 hours of birth and on infant birth weight. The analysis also reveals nonlinear effects of TSPs and large infant mortality effects at TSPs concentrations below the EPA-mandated air quality standard. Overall, the estimates imply that about 2,500 fewer infants died from 1980-82 than would have in the absence of the [10% reduction] in air pollution.
Additionally, multiple studies demonstrate that exposure to air pollution from natural gas extraction is linked to lower birth weight and higher rates of infant mortality. Despite this, Rep. Patmon was 1 of just 3 Democrats to vote for HB 483, which drastically increased the setback requirements for wind turbines in the state. This bill ensured that setbacks for wind turbines in Ohio are now up to 10 times greater than those for oil and gas wells. Patmon also cast the deciding vote to move HB 375, the pathetic House GOP severance tax bill for oil and gas extraction, out of committee; fortunately it died in the full House. His fealty to fossil fuels knows nearly no bound.
So it’s great that Rep. Bill Patmon has a new-found concern for Ohio’s infant mortality crisis. But perhaps he should spend more time addressing the actual causes of the issue and less time delivering morality lectures to this constituents.