News Abortion

Ohio Clinic Closures Limit Safe Abortion Access

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice regulations are forcing Ohio reproductive health clinics to close, restricting access to safe, legal abortion in the state.

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.”

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Family Planning

Judge Thwarts Ohio GOP’s Attack on Planned Parenthood Funding

Michelle D. Anderson

“This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care—this law would have made a bad situation worse,” said Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio.

An effort to defund Ohio Planned Parenthood affiliates by Gov. John Kasich (R) and the Republican-held legislature has come to an end.

Judge Michael R. Barrett of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio on Friday ruled in Planned Parenthood’s favor, granting a permanent injunction on an anti-choice state law.

The court ruling will keep Richard Hodges, the Ohio Department of Health director, from enforcing HB 294.

The 2015 law, sponsored by Rep. Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland) and Rep. Margaret Conditt (R-Butler County), would have redirected $1.3 million in state and federal taxpayer funds from Planned Parenthood’s 28 clinics in Ohio.

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The law would have required the state department to keep federal funds and materials that the health department receives from being distributed to entities that perform or promote non-therapeutic abortions, or maintain affiliation with any entity that does.

Funding that would’ve been cut off from the state health department went to the Violence Against Women and Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention acts, the Infertility Prevention Project, Minority HIV/AIDS and Infant Mortality Reduction initiatives, and the Personal Responsibility Education Program.

Planned Parenthood in a lawsuit argued that the Republican legislation violated the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Barrett had temporarily blocked the law after Planned Parenthood affiliates filed the lawsuit and requested a preliminary injunction. The judge had issued an opinion contending that some legislators passed the law to make it difficult for people to access abortion care, as Rewire reported.

Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, praised the judge’s temporary order.

“This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care—this law would have made a bad situation worse,” Harvey said in a statement.

Kellie Copeland, NARAL Pro Choice Ohio’s executive director, said in a statement that the Ohio legislature passed the anti-choice measure in an effort to appeal to conservative voters in early primary states during Kasich’s presidential campaign.

Copeland said that while the legislation made no effort to reduce the number of abortions performed, “it actively blocked critical health care for low-income women and families.”

Planned Parenthood said those services included 70,000 free STD screenings, thousands of HIV tests for at-risk community residents, and the largest infant mortality prevention program in the state.

In the 23-page court order and opinion, Barrett, an appointee of President George W. Bush, acknowledged that the law would have deterred “patients from seeking these potentially life-saving services.”

Planned Parenthood noted that the recent ruling in Ohio makes it among the ten states where courts have blocked anti-choice laws following June’s landmark Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

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