November 30, 2015 — The Ohio Department of Health on Friday granted the only abortion clinic in Cincinnati an exemption to an antiabortion-rights state law, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports (Balmert, Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/27).
Under Ohio's 2014-2015 budget (HB 59), signed into law 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 or request a variance from the requirement. The law also 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 are required to close, although they are permitted to reopen if they obtain approval at a later time. If the clinic's variance request is denied, its operating license is automatically suspended.
In September, ODH 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 found three physicians who said they would provide emergency medical care, but ODH Director Richard Hodges rejected those variance requests as inadequate.
The clinics were given 30 days to appeal the decision. Later that month, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett ruled that the clinics could remain open while they appeal the license revocation decision. Meanwhile, the clinics made arrangements with a fourth physician and filed another variance request.
The operators of the two clinics also filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the requirements. In October, Barrett issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the law while the federal lawsuit moves forward (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/10).
Hodges on Friday granted the Planned Parenthood clinic a variance that permits the clinic to remain open until May 31, 2016. Nov. 27 was the last day for Hodges to approve the variance under the law's time limit.
According to the Enquirer, the clinic would have had to close without the variance, and Cincinnati would have become the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without an abortion clinic.
Danielle Craig, spokesperson for PPSO, said, "We are very pleased that our variance was approved by the Ohio Department of Health." However, she noted that the state laws requiring transfer agreements and barring public hospitals from entering such agreements are unconstitutional because they put "an undue burden on women seeking safe and legal abortion."
Separately, Jennifer Branch, an attorney for the clinics, said the legal challenge against the laws was "still in play," and they would continue to challenge both laws.
Meanwhile, according to ODH spokesperson Russ Kennedy, Women's Med has not filed a second variance request following its initial request, which was rejected. However, the clinic is scheduled to have a hearing in its appeal of the proposed closure (Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/27).