September 29, 2015 — The Ohio Department of Health on Friday denied two clinics' requests for variances to abortion regulations included in the two most recent state budgets, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
The clinics have 30 days to appeal the decision, during which time they are allowed to remain open (Johnson, Columbus Dispatch, 9/26).
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. The changes take effect Sept. 29. If the clinic's variance request is denied once the changes are in effect, its operating license would be automatically suspended (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/8).
Both the Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio clinic in Cincinnati and the Women's Med Center of Dayton had requested variances to the requirements (Columbus Dispatch, 9/26). In addition, operators of the two clinics filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the requirements (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/8).
The Ohio Department of Health in letters sent to the clinics said the variance requests were rejected because the facilities did not meet certain requirements in their proposed substitute for the hospital arrangement, AP/WLWT reports. The clinics had arrangements with three physicians as an alternate plan. However, for the variance to be approved, the state said the clinics needed an arrangement with a fourth physician.
Jennifer Branch -- an attorney for the clinics, which plan on appealing the decision -- said she and the clinic operators had not been aware of the requirement to have arrangements with four physicians. She noted such a requirement had not been applied in the past (AP/WLWT, 9/25).
If the state revokes the clinics' licenses, they could no longer perform abortions. They would still be allowed to provide other health care services (Zilka, WCPO, 9/27).
According to the Dispatch, the number of clinics in Ohio will drop by eight over five years if the two clinics facing closure shut down, leaving only seven remaining clinics in the state. Further, Cincinnati would become the largest city in the U.S. without an abortion clinic if the Cincinnati-based clinic closes (Columbus Dispatch, 9/26).
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said the closure of the two clinics "will force women to find the time and money required to travel hundreds of miles away." She added, "Women must have the ability to access abortion care without facing undue burdens. Today's decision puts that access in jeopardy" (AP/WLWT, 9/25).