News Abortion

Ohio Shows How an ‘Admitting Privileges’ Requirement Can Become a Backdoor Abortion Ban

Robin Marty

First you make it so abortion clinics are unable to operate unless they work with a hospital. Then you harass the hospitals that work with them.

It’s a lot easier to harass and picket a hospital than a reproductive health clinic these days. While a clinic and its staff may be resigned to putting up with endless harassment, a hospital is far more susceptible to pressure. Hospitals have board members, doctors, patients, and donors. Some hospitals are religious entities that won’t allow anything involving abortion to take place in their facility, even when pregnant individuals need such medical care, while others are publicly supported institutions that are subject to local or regional government pressures for grants or reimbursements.

All those factors play into the anti-choice movement’s obsession with targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws that require medical practitioners at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. By making hospitals the gatekeeper for whether or not abortions can be provided at an unrelated clinic, anti-choice activists can move their attention to a much more vulnerable target.

A recent example of how easy it is for abortion opponents to cut off abortion providers by targeting a hospital can be seen in Ohio, where Ohio Right to Life is trying to get the University of Toledo Medical Center to revoke its transfer agreement with Capital Care, a Toledo abortion provider. There are only two clinics in Toledo, which, because of their location, also serve a large portion of southern Michigan and northeast Indiana.

John Coats, executive director of Ohio Right to Life, is upset with the terms of the agreement. In his mind, because the hospital is associated with a university, any sign of working with an abortion provider is tantamount to taxpayer funding of abortion. “Our problem was, and is, that the transfer agreement was signed by the University of Toledo, a publicly funded university, and is totally tax payer funded,” Coats told the Independent Collegian. “We know if the transfer agreement did not exist then this abortion mill would not be able to legally operate …. Ohio law prohibits state tax dollars from paying for abortion and it is against the law for publicly funded state hospitals to perform non-therapeutic abortions.”

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However, the hospital does not provide abortions. It merely allows a transfer to its facility in the rare case of a complication. In such cases, the resulting procedure wouldn’t be a “non-therapeutic abortion” or likely any sort of abortion, but rather follow-up treatment for a person who had an abortion.

Ohio Right to Life’s leaders claim they are working with a state representative to introduce a bill that would ban transfer agreements between a “tax-funded public hospital” and an abortion clinic. Should that sort of law become copy-cat legislation—and in today’s political climate, there is little doubt it would—it would essentially shut off all options for transfer agreements or admitting privileges for any abortion providers. Once you eliminate public hospitals and religious hospitals, you are left only with a small handful of private, for-profit hospitals that would qualify, none of which would be likely to take on a medical agreement that not only would offer little profit, but that could come with harassment, potentially driving profitable patients away.

The legislation may still be on the horizon, but the pressure from the state’s anti-choice activists has already gotten to the University of Toledo Medical Center, which has announced that it not only will not be renewing its agreement with Capital Care, but will cease negotiations with the only other local clinic to allow it to transfer patients. As a result, without another hospital willing to step in, both clinics could close.

“Ohio Right to Life, led Mike Gonidakis, Kasich appointee to the State Medical Board, bullied the University of Toledo Medical Center into cancelling these transfer agreements. If other transfer agreements cannot be secured, these clinics may be forced to close,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, told Rewire. “Closing legal abortion clinics is not going to stop women from having abortions, it will just make them extremely dangerous. Why is an organization run by a member of the State Medical board putting the lives of women at risk by attacking hospitals and legally operating medical facilities in our state?”

No hospitals means no clinics, and no clinics means no safe abortion access. And anti-choice activists can achieve all that without setting foot near an abortion provider. No wonder admitting privileges bills are the new anti-choice darlings.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care. Her district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

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