Southwestern Ohio on Verge of Losing Last Abortion Providers

Ohio Department of Health officials on Sept. 25 denied licenses to perform abortions for the last two remaining clinics in southwestern Ohio. Both clinics were in danger of closing at the end of the month, but a federal judge on Sept. 28 ruled they must

click to enlarge Protestors outside the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center, a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn.
Protestors outside the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center, a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn.

Ohio Department of Health officials on Sept. 25 denied licenses to perform abortions for the last two remaining clinics in southwestern Ohio. Both clinics were in danger of closing at the end of the month, but a federal judge on Sept. 28 ruled they must be allowed to stay open until appeals to the ODH’s decision are heard.

The closures of Planned Parenthood in Mount Auburn would make the Cincinnati metropolitan area of 2.1 million the largest in the country without an abortion provider. Another clinic that has lost its license, the Women’s Med facility in Dayton, is also in danger of closing. The two represent the last abortion providers in southwestern Ohio.Since 2013, Ohio has lost half of its abortion clinics, many due to the restrictions imposed by new laws passed in the last few years by Ohio’s conservative legislature. In 2013, the state had 14 clinics. If both southwestern Ohio clinics close, it will have seven.

Ohio law requires that abortion providers establish a patient-transfer agreement with a local hospital. However, another law subsequently passed in 2013 by the state legislature prohibits public hospitals from entering into those agreements. Clinics that are unable to establish a transfer agreement with private hospitals can ask for an exception from the Ohio Department of Health, known as a variance, if they have individual doctors on staff with admitting privileges.

Both clinics have been unable to obtain a patient-transfer agreement with a local private hospital and have been operating on variances. In June of this year, Ohio Gov. John Kasich went a step further and signed into law a measure that would give the health department just 60 days to make a decision on a variance request. If the department doesn’t answer or denies the request within that timeframe, the clinic will lose its license. Planned Parenthood filed its request for an extension in May. Women’s Med filed its in late July after the state responded to an initial application in June stating that its two back-up doctors were not enough to gain an exception from the hospital partnership. The clinic responded by hiring another doctor.

The letter received by both clinics on Friday said they have too few doctors to take clients in case of an emergency.

“ODH is denying the variances to protect the health of patients in the facilities,” the department said in a statement about its decision.

Earlier this month, the clinics filed a federal lawsuit over the newest restrictions. Their hope is that the court will rule the restrictions unconstitutional and will end the required partnerships with hospitals.

Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion activists say the tough restrictions have been put in place to protect the health of women seeking abortions. Pro-choice activists argue that abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures, and these restrictions are being used as a method to close clinics.

The Centers for Disease Control considers abortion to be very safe procedure with fewer complications than childbirth. A report from the University of California-San Francisco using Medicaid data found that .03 percent of patients seeking an abortion had to be transferred by ambulance to a hospital the same day as the procedure.

“The argument that this is necessary to protect women is bogus,” Danielle Craig, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Ohio, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “If it was about safety, the public hospitals would be able to work with us.”

Some pro-choice supporters say the closures boil down to politics and tie the increas

ing restrictions with Kasich’s campaign in the GOP presidential primary. 

The license denials for the two clinics come during a turbulent time for Planned Parenthood. Hardline conservative Republican lawmakers in Congress were threatening a government shutdown by refusing to vote for a budget that included federal funding for the organization after heavily-edited videos made by an anti-abortion group surfaced allegedly showing top executives discussing the sale of fetal tissue in some states. Planned Parenthood has denied the allegations. Pro-life groups cheered the decision to shutter the clinics.

“After a summer mired in scandal, Planned Parenthood is now facing closure here in Ohio because of their failure to comply with some of our state’s most basic safety requirements,” Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said in a statement following the announcement

The allegations don’t center around the Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn, which does not participate in fetal tissue donation programs.

Supporters of Planned Parenthood point out that federal laws prevent public money from being spent on providing abortions and that money from the federal government goes to supplying other health services to women who would not otherwise be able to afford it.

A government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding seems unlikely at this point, with the Senate passing a so-called “clean” budget proposal and outgoing House Speaker John Boehner promising to pass a similar measure. ©

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