State orders Ohio abortion clinic to close

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A suburban Cincinnati abortion clinic said Tuesday it will remain legally open as it appeals the first state closure order issued under newly imposed restrictions on such facilities.

In a letter Friday, the Ohio Department of Health ordered the Lebanon Road Surgery Center of Sharonville closed after it was unable to secure a required patient transfer agreement with a hospital. Such agreements are required under state law but were made unattainable to abortion clinics in the last state budget.

Attorney Jennifer Branch said the clinic had sought a variance from the law, as it had been granted in the past, but was refused. She said the clinic intends to appeal, in what could be an extended proceeding.

The director of an Ohio abortion-rights advocacy group said this marks the first license revocation ordered since state lawmakers voted last year to prohibit publicly funded hospitals from having patient transfer agreements with facilities that provide abortions.

Ohio law simultaneously requires such transfer agreements to be in place, in what abortion rights groups have dubbed a de facto restriction on abortion. The agreements provide for patients to be transferred to a nearby hospital in an emergency.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio executive director Kellie Copeland said four Ohio clinics that perform abortions have closed in the past year, two for unrelated reasons and one each in Toledo and Cleveland, in anticipation of challenges associated with the new transfer-agreement restrictions.

She said Lebanon Road, which operates as Women’s Med Center and is run by physician Martin Haskell, is the first to see its license revoked since the law was changed.

Ohio Right to Life, the state’s leading anti-abortion group, praised the new legal restrictions and the state’s action against the Cincinnati operation run by Haskell, known for his association with a late-term abortion technique that’s now banned.

“We want to thank the Health Department for enforcing Ohio law and refusing to allow the abortion industry to escape complying with health and safety standards,” president Mike Gonidakis said in a statement. “Women’s health is priority number one and today’s actions by the Kasich administration should serve as a wakeup call that Ohio will no longer turn a blind eye towards unhealthy medical practices.”

Copeland said the state’s letter made no reference to unhealthy practices — only to the lack of the patient transfer agreement with a hospital, or other medical backup, required of all ambulatory care facilities in Ohio.

“We have a Cincinnati clinic that’s now going to have to fight to remain open over paperwork,” she said. “There is no mention in the state’s letter about safety or quality of patient care. That’s not what this is about. This is about political pressure, this is about imposing the ideology of (Gov.) John Kasich and his Republican friends in the Legislature on Ohio women.”

She said the latest figures show 45 of 220,000 Ohio abortions involved complications.

Three additional Ohio clinics — in Toledo, Cincinnati and Dayton — are operating without transfer agreements and could face similar state action soon, Copeland said. That leaves clinics in Columbus, Cleveland and Akron.

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