Last summer, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed regulations that place severe restrictions on clinics that provide abortions after Republicans attached the regulations to the state’s budget. Those regulations have begun to result in clinic closures and the restriction of women’s access to reproductive health care in the state.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, three clinics have closed or are in danger of closing because they have not secured transfer agreements with local hospitals. A Cleveland clinic was recently forced to shutter its doors, a Toledo clinic has remained open while it appeals its closure, and a Cincinnati clinic’s appeal was recently rejected and its future is in jeopardy. If all three of these clinics close, that would bring to five the number of clinics closed, leaving just nine clinics left in a state with a population of more than 11 million.
Stephanie Kight, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, told Rewire that the new regulations around abortion in Ohio are intrusive and designed to shame women rather than support their health-care decisions. Planned Parenthood has avoided the closures that other clinics have faced. “No woman has gone without the care she needs in spite of the intrusive politics,” said Kight. “Planned Parenthood continues to provide quality care—in compliance with the law—from highly trained medical professionals, and we will continue to provide that care.”
The restrictions require that clinics that provide abortion enter into transfer agreements with hospitals in which the hospital agrees to take patients if any complications occur related to the termination of a pregnancy. Recently, the Ohio legislature made obtaining admitting privileges even more difficult by banning public hospitals from entering into such agreements, even though complications resulting from an induced abortion in Ohio are exceedingly rare. According to a 2012 report by the Ohio Department of Health, there were 47 abortions that resulted in complications out of 25,473 performed, or 0.18 percent of all abortions.
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“These regulations have nothing to do with patient safety; they have everything to do with closing safe legal providers of abortion care,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. Copeland noted that the clinics that seem to be targeted are on the western side of the state. “Those clinic closures would force women up and down the state to leave the state or travel to Columbus or Toledo or Akron. Women will have to travel hundreds of miles to access a constitutionally protected safe legal medical procedure.”
Hazel Crampton-Hays, a student at Oberlin College, says that access to reproductive health care can be a problem for college students. The closest clinics are in Cleveland and Akron, which are about a 45-minute drive for Oberlin students. “There is a 24-hour waiting period that makes it even more of a problem,” said Crampton-Hays, who is a member of the Oberlin College Students United for Reproductive Freedom. “You have to find a ride to Cleveland for two separate days, and this cost time and money. The distance is a huge issue because it makes it considerably more difficult and makes people wait longer because they have to find a way to get there.”
Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life and an appointee to the Ohio State Medical Board by Gov. Kasich, disputed that there is a lack of access to reproductive health care in the state. He told the Columbus Dispatch that the state’s 125 crisis pregnancy centers, 35 community action centers, and 100 community health centers provide for the needy. “Thankfully low-income women have many, many options,” Gonidakis told the Dispatch. Copeland noted that crisis pregnancy centers do not provide reproductive health care, but do provide medically inaccurate information about abortion.
Crampton-Hays sees the restrictions on clinics as not about women’s health care but as political fodder for conservative politicians. “It’s appalling,” she said. “It’s an absolute slap in the face in the women of Ohio. It’s like saying ‘you don’t matter.’ We’re going to use you to make a political point.”