Abortion Clinics in Ohio|Are Against the Ropes

     CINCINNATI (CN) – A federal judge must block new Ohio rules that will close two of the state’s three remaining abortion providers, the clinics claim in court.
     The regulations began with the requirement that ambulatory surgery facilities – clinics that provide same-day surgery – have a written transfer agreement with a nearby hospital, according to the complaint filed Tuesday.
     Opponents failed to defeat this rule in 2006 because the rule is subject to waiver, but Planned Parenthood for the Southwest Ohio Region notes that the state has never offered such relief. The most it has granted is a one-year variance that must be renewed.
     Legislators took the restrictions a step further in 2013 by banning abortion providers from obtaining a transfer agreement with a “public hospital.”
     Though 14 Ohio clinics provided surgical abortion at the beginning of that year, that number is down to just three today, Planned Parenthood says.
     The state cracked down even harder in its 2015 biennial budget, adopting a provision that “immediately and automatically suspend[s]” an ambulatory surgery center’s license if the state denies a variance application or fails to act on it within 60 days.
     Planned Parenthood says the new rule takes effect on Sept. 29, subjecting it and any other facilities with a pending variance application to immediate closure if the state does not act on their applications.
     Women’s Med Group PC joined Planned Parenthood in the federal complaint against Richard Hodges with the state Department of Health and two Cincinnati hospitals.
     They say the new requirements “are part of a deliberate strategy to severely reduce access to abortion by imposing and enforcing laws and regulations that do not promote women’s health or any other valid state interest.”
     “If [the clinics] were forced to shut down their ASFs, the women of Southwest Ohio, including patients with already scheduled procedures at [the clinics], would be forced to seek surgical abortions elsewhere, and to travel hundreds of miles in order to access care,” the complaint states, abbreviating ambulatory surgery facilities.
     While Ohio’s actions aim to protect the transfer agreements, Planned Parenthood says the provisions are wholly unnecessary because an abortion is one of the safest surgeries available. In the rare event of complications, moreover, nearby hospitals must and do comply with federal law requiring them to treat patients in an emergency.
     “As a result, WTAs do nothing to increase patient safety or health and are not medically necessary,” the complaint states, abbreviating written transfer agreements. “What does clearly decrease patient safety and threatens patient’s health is the lack of access to abortion services.”
     Planned Parenthood and Women’s Med say obtaining these agreements has been next to impossible because hospitals have either a political or religious aversion to abortion, or they fear harassment of their doctors for providing emergency medical care to abortion patients.
     “For example, there is a national campaign to shame the Dayton doctors who provide back-up services to patients of WMCD,” the clinics claim. “An anti-abortion group plastered the doctors’ faces on trucks next to a photograph of an alleged aborted fetus, drove the truck through each doctor’s neighborhood, and parked the trucks at the hospital and their respective homes and work sites.”
     Politicians with anti-abortion agendas promulgate the new regulations and receive praise by likeminded groups as steps to curtail abortions and shut down clinics, according to the complaint.
     The clinics seek a ruling that the automatic suspension and public hospital provisions and transfer agreement requirement violate their due-process and equal-protection rights, and that the rules’ placement in the biennial budget violates a rule requiring that bill provisions be related to a common purpose.
     They seek declaratory judgments to that effect and permanent injunctions against all the recent requirements and regulations.
     Gerhardstein & Branch attorney Jennifer Branch filed the complaint for the clinics, alongside lawyers from the national Planned Parenthood organization and the American Civil Liberties Union.

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