September 8, 2015 — Operators of two abortion clinics in Ohio last week filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of abortion regulations included in the two most recent state budgets, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.
If the measures remain in place, both clinics are likely to close, according to the lawsuit (Carr Smyth, AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/1).
Under Ohio's 2014-2015 budget (HB 59), signed in 2013, abortion clinics in the state are required to have a patient transfer agreement with a hospital. Clinics are prohibited from making such arrangements with public hospitals.
In addition, Gov. John Kasich (R) recently signed into law a state budget (HB 64) that requires abortion clinics to arrange a patient transfer agreement with a hospital no more than 30 miles away. The budget also includes a provision that requires the state health director to grant or deny a clinic's variance request within 60 days. Clinics unable to obtain a variance within 60 days would be required to close, although they would be permitted to reopen if they obtain approval at a later time (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/5).
Once the changes take effect Sept. 29, the state health director can reject or deny a clinic's variance, which would automatically suspend its operating license (Higgs, Northeast Ohio Media Group/Cleveland Plain Dealer, 9/1).
In August, the Women's Med Center in Dayton filed for an exemption to the requirement that abortion clinics have a patient transfer agreement in place with a nearby hospital. The Ohio Department of Health in June had rejected the clinic's original request, filed in 2013, and gave the clinic 30 days to file a new request or risk closure (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/5).
According to the AP/Sacramento Bee, Women's Med Group and Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio are challenging the state budgets' antiabortion-rights provisions (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/1). They are asking for an injunction against the requirements (Northeast Ohio Media Group/Cleveland Plain Dealer, 9/1).
The clinic operators contend that the budget provisions violate their patients' right to liberty and privacy or the clinic owners' due process and equal protection rights. The lawsuit states that the provisions put women's health at risk, do not have a rational basis and place a substantial burden on women seeking abortion care without advancing a legitimate interest of the state. "Such efforts are part of a deliberate strategy to severely limit access to abortion by imposing and enforcing laws and regulations that do not promote women's health or any other valid state interest," the lawsuit states (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/1).
In addition, the clinic operators hold that the measures are not budgetary in nature, which means they violate a state constitutional provision that limits bills to one subject (Northeast Ohio Media Group/Cleveland Plain Dealer, 9/1).
Cecile Richards, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, "Years of hostile policies have already decimated women's access to safe, legal abortion in Ohio," adding, "If the courts do not step in, half of the health centers that provide abortion in Ohio will have closed in only two years" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/1).
New Ohio Clinic Departs From National Closure Trend
In related news, a recently opened clinic south of Cleveland in 2014 counters a national trend of clinic closures, WCPN/Kaiser Health News reports.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 22 states, including Ohio, in 2013 enacted 70 measures that restrict abortion access. There are nine abortion clinics in Ohio, about half the number there were in 2010.
David Burkons, an abortion provider who opened the newest clinic, originally was permitted only to administer medication abortion. Following several inspections, he was able to start offering surgical abortions at the facility this summer (Tribble, WCPM/Kaiser Health News, 8/31).
Ohio Lawmakers Propose Bill To Help Pregnant Women With Substance Use Disorders
In other related news, Ohio Reps. Doug Green (R) and Sean O'Brien (D) on Wednesday introduced legislation aimed at helping pregnant women with substance use disorders receive treatment, the Columbus Dispatch reports (Candisky, Columbus Dispatch, 9/2).
According to 9WCPO, state law currently requires physicians to act as mandatory reporters if a pregnant woman seeks treatment for substance use disorders.
The measure would allow women who are less than 20 weeks pregnant to seek substance use treatment without being mandatorily reported to Ohio's Children Services. The women would not be reported as long as they remain in the treatment program. Under the bill, women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant can obtain the same protections if authorized by a judge (Postlethwait, 9WCPO, 9/2).
The measure also would prohibit state welfare officials from separating a woman and a newborn infant because of drug misuse as long as the woman has completed, or is near completing, a treatment program. In addition, the bill would require that drug-treatment programs receiving public funds prioritize pregnant women on their waiting lists (Columbus Dispatch, 9/2).
According to O'Brien, the measure's protections for pregnant women apply only to substance use. The state's Children Services still will be able to take custody of a child if home conditions are not safe (9WCPO, 9/2).