By Amanda Seitz
For the first time in decades 480,000 women of child-bearing age in southwest Ohio region might lose access to local abortion clinics next month.
State health officials announced Friday they plan to revoke licenses for the last two remaining centers in the Cincinnati and Dayton regions.
Women’s Med Center in Kettering and Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio have 30 days to request hearings to appeal the decision, according to the notice.
The licenses were denied because neither of the facilities have written patient transfer agreements with local hospitals, a requirement for outpatient centers like abortion clinics. Two years ago, the state banned abortion centers from entering into such agreements with public hospitals, which forced the Planned Parenthood surgical center to end its longstanding agreement with the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Instead, the clinics proposed using back-up doctors with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a move that health department spokeswoman Melanie Amato described as inadequate. That proposal was denied Friday.
“The (health department) is denying the variances to protect the health of patients in the facilities,” the department said in a statement. “The proposed variances would not provide for adequate clinical coverage to protect patients during an emergency situation.”
If the clinics choose to appeal the license revocation, they can continue to operate during the appeals process.
She said the decision was not made as a result of a new Ohio law, passed this year, that required the Ohio Department of Health to decide whether to grant variance requests within 60 days. That law is set to go into effect Sept. 29.
A federal judge is slated to decide Monday if he will issue an injunction to keep Women’s Med Center and Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio open while the clinics fight the health department over abortion clinics regulations in a lawsuit.
The two clinics will proceed with that lawsuit, which calls into question several abortion clinic regulations in the state — including the newest law — said Jennifer Branch, an attorney for the clinics.
She said the latest announcement is a result of unnecessary regulations on abortion clinics in the state.
“This is not about patient healthy and safety,” Branch said. Some medical experts argue the state’s mandatory patient transfer agreement rule is unnecessary because hospitals can’t refuse patients.
Six clinics have closed either voluntarily or under state orders since Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011 and as regulations surrounding the centers have increasingly tightened under a conservative legislature. Nine remain open in the state, including the two in Dayton and Cincinnati. Last year, the number of abortion procedures performed in Ohio hit a 38-year low.
“It’s obvious the department of health is abusing their regulatory authority and continues to move the goal line on clinics in an attempt to eliminate abortion access,” said Kellie Copeland, the executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
If the state successfully revokes the license of Women’s Med Center and Planned Parenthood it will be a “monumental” win for the pro-life movement, Ohio Right to Life Director Mike Gonidakis said Friday. If it closes, Women’s Med Center, in particular, would be a huge victory because the facility offers abortions past 20 weeks, Gonidakis said. The only other center to offer late-term abortions is located in Cleveland.
Gonidakis, who praised the Ohio governor’s administration for moving to close the clinics, said the centers should close because they fail to follow the regulations like other abortion facilities in Columbus or Cleveland.
“The bottom line is: Gov. Kasich did the right thing,” Gonidakis said. “We’re not going to have illegally operating abortion clinics … No clinic gets a free pass.”