September 10, 2015 — Amid a recent uptick in antiabortion-rights regulations in Ohio, abortion providers are challenging new requirements that could leave Cincinnati, the most-populated city in the state, without an abortion clinic, The Guardian reports.
According to Jerry Lawson, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, the Ohio laws -- called TRAP laws, or targeted regulation of abortion providers -- are part of a new antiabortion-rights strategy that uses incremental restrictions to limit abortion rights rather than solely relying on rallies and protests.
Conservative lawmakers in the Ohio Legislature over the last four years have pushed a series of restrictions that have incrementally restricted abortion facilities. Since Gov. John Kasich (R) took office in 2011, he has signed 16 antiabortion-rights measures. According to The Guardian, the number of clinics in the state has fallen by nearly half, from 17 to nine, and three more are at risk of closing.
The Guardian spotlights a particular series of recent TRAP laws in the state. First, Ohio lawmakers enacted a law requiring abortion clinics to have a transfer agreement with a nearby hospital (Pilkington, The Guardian, 9/8). Then, in 2013, the state passed the 2014-2015 budget (HB 59), which required abortion clinics in the state to have a patient transfer agreement with a hospital, but prohibited them from making such arrangements with public hospitals.
Most recently, Kasich 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.
Once the changes take effect on Sept. 29, the state health director can reject or deny a clinic's variance, which would automatically suspend its operating license (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/8).
Effect on Clinics
Without a variance, the Cincinnati clinic could close as soon as Nov. 28, making Cincinnati "the largest metropolitan area in the United States without any access to surgical abortions," The Guardian reports. Further, if Women's Med Center in Dayton also closes under the requirement, women in the area would have to travel 500 miles to Cleveland to access abortion care.
Lawson said, "Women who live here would be left with no easy or even reasonable access to safe legal abortion," adding, "For low-income women, the bulk of our patients, the extra travel and cost would be daunting and many could find themselves carrying pregnancy to term when they didn't want to" (The Guardian, 9/8).
Clinics Take Legal Action
The Cincinnati clinic, along with the Women's Med Center recently filed a lawsuit challenging the budgets' antiabortion-rights provisions.
The clinic operators contend that the budget provisions violate their patients' rights to liberty and privacy or the clinic owners' due process and equal protection rights. Further, 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/8).
"We felt we couldn't just sit and do nothing and run up against this deadline when all of a sudden we would cease to exist," Lawson said, adding, "We have accommodated where we could, but they kept on getting tougher and tougher with us and we're now at the point where we just won't be able to survive unless we push back."
Additional Challenges for Providers
Meanwhile, pending legislation in Ohio threatens to further restrict abortion access in the state, The Guardian reports.
One measure (HB 135) would ban abortions in cases of a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. In addition, some have called to defund Planned Parenthood in the state, following the release of a series of misleading videos by antiabortion-rights activists about fetal tissue donation at the organization. No clinics in Ohio currently participate in fetal tissue donation programs (The Guardian, 9/8).