Could the Supreme Court’s Prostitution Pledge Ruling Help Rape Victims in Ohio?

Yesterday afternoon, yet another state passed sweeping anti-abortion and anti-woman policies. Ohio’s new budget includes provisions for mandatory ultrasounds (including, possibly, just to obtain birth control), defunding Planned Parenthood, redirecting funds to Crisis Pregnancy Centers, and defines pregnancy as beginning at fertilization rather than implantation. Despite vocal objections and impassioned pleas from Democratic lawmakers and pro-choice (or just not insanely anti-choice) protestors, the Ohio Senate passed the budget 21-11, with one Republican senator opposing, and the Ohio House passed the budget 53-44, with seven Republicans voting no.

In addition to the measures listed above, there’s also one more incredibly troubling provision in this budget: it will defund rape crisis centers that counsel rape victims on their abortion options. Not that provide abortions. Just that talk about the option of having an abortion with women who may have become pregnant as a result of a rape.

Thankfully, we have an opportunity to stop this harmful and shameful silencing maneuver from taking effect. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Anti-Prostitution Loyalty Oath could not be a requirement for funding of aid groups receiving money from the US government to fight HIV/AIDS under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The anti-prostitution pledge has been in place since PEPFAR was first passed in 2003 and, despite AIDS organizations’ best efforts, was included again in the reauthorization in 2008.  For those unfamiliar, here’s the language of the pledge:

  • “No funds…may be used to promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution or sex trafficking.”
  • “No funds…may be used to provide assistance to any group or organization that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.”

But the Supreme Court ruled that these conditions for funding violate the First Amendment, and language dictating the silencing of a particular belief cannot be regulated by the government. In Chief Justice John Roberts’ words, “The Policy Requirement violates the First Amendment by compelling as a condition of federal funding the affirmation of a belief that by its nature cannot be confined within the scope of the Government program.”

supreme court

I’ve been speculating that this ruling could be used to undo the Global Gag Rule as well. The gag rule denies US government funding to any organization providing information about abortion to their clients. Again, not that provide abortions, or that provide referrals for abortions, but just those who so much as acknowledge abortion exists and may be an option.

It might be a stretch, but this could potentially open the door to undoing the Global Gag Rule, or at least to further challenges of its validity and constitutionality. If so, that would similarly apply to the rape crisis centers in Ohio that would be denied funding by the state government. The First Amendment applies to the states, too, after all.

We might have to wait and see, but I fervently hope that it will be made clear to Governor Kasich that he is on thin ice with this one, and hope that he chooses to line item veto that particular provision of the new budget. Not only it is fundamentally wrong to deny rape victims information about all of their options, but opponents could also tie Ohio up in legal cases for a while and make them spend a lot of money to defend a reprehensible decision. It’s Kasich’s choice.

If you want to help make that choice a little easier for him, and especially if you’re an Ohioan, be sure to give Governor Kasich a call at (614) 466-3555.

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