An Ohio abortion clinic was ordered to close
Friday, a decision that advocates are calling politically motivated and that lawyers for the health center plan to appeal.
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) refused to renew the license of the Women’s Med Center (also called the Lebanon Road Surgery Center) in Sharonville, Ohio, near Cincinnati, because the clinic lacked either a transfer agreement with a local hospital or a “variance” exempting the clinic from that requirement.
Jennifer Branch, the center’s attorney, told RH Reality Check that the center would appeal the ruling, and can remain open until a judge decides whether to grant it a stay of closure. If the stay is granted, the clinic can remain open while litigation proceeds in the state courts. Branch said that process could take up to a year, and the case could even go to the state’s supreme court.
“It was undisputed in the record that the clinic met the variance requirements,” Branch said.
ODH has granted variances to Dr. Martin Haskell, who runs the Sharonville center and another Women’s Med Center in Dayton, since 2008. But Haskell’s latest request for a variance was denied by ODH 15 months after he filed the paperwork. The new state budget passed last year by Republican Gov. John Kasick both allows the ODH to refuse a variance request for any reason, and forbids taxpayer-funded public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with abortion clinics. The new rules have eliminated options for some clinics that used to partner with public hospitals and have no other potential partners nearby.
“Gov. Kasich and his political appointees at the Ohio Department of Health are abusing their regulatory authority by moving to close an abortion clinic without any medical justification,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
This latest closure order may bode ill for three other Ohio clinics that
need a variance to stay open, including Haskell’s clinic in Dayton and another clinic in the Cincinnati area. If all four clinics were to close, there would be no abortion clinics in the western half of the state, and Cincinnati would be the largest metropolitan area in the country without a provider of safe, legal abortion care.
Dr. Haskell became a frequent target of anti-choice outrage after developing the dilation and extraction, or so-called partial-birth abortion, technique.
Transfer agreements are intended to ensure that patients can be transferred to a hospital in the event of complication from an abortion procedure. But hospitals must accept patients brought to them in an emergency regardless of transfer agreements, and ambulances often make the determination of which hospital to bring a patient to.
In 2012 in Ohio, the complication rate from abortions was roughly 0.18 percent, or about 47 out of over 25,000 procedures, and included no maternal deaths.