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Federal Judge Rules Ohio Clinics Can Remain Open While Appealing Denied Variance Requests

Federal Judge Rules Ohio Clinics Can Remain Open While Appealing Denied Variance Requests

September 30, 2015 — A federal judge on Monday ruled that two Ohio abortion clinics can remain open while they appeal a decision to revoke their state operating licenses, AP/Sacramento Bee reports (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/29).

Background

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, which took effect Sept. 29, 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. If the clinic's variance request was denied, its operating license would be automatically suspended.

Last week, the Ohio Department of Health denied variance requests from the Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio clinic in Cincinnati and the Women's Med Center of Dayton, which are the only remaining clinics in southwest Ohio. The clinics have 30 days to appeal the decision. The operators of the two clinics also have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the requirements.

The number of clinics in Ohio will have been reduced by half in the course of 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 PPSO clinic closes (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/29).

Latest Ruling

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barret said the clinics can remain open until the appeals process is done (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/29).

Jennifer Branch, an attorney for the clinics, said Barret's ruling enables the clinics to continue providing services despite the new variance law that took effect on Sept. 29, which would have allowed state officials to close the clinics without an appeal. "We have a temporary reprieve," she said, adding that the clinics will move forward with their lawsuit challenging the regulations.

A spokesperson for the health department said appeals are considered on a "case-by-case-basis" and did not confirm how long the process will take (Seitz, Hamilton Journal-News, 9/29).