Fourteen Months and One Lawsuit Later, Cincinnati’s Last Abortion Clinic Will Stay Open

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Fourteen Months and One Lawsuit Later, Cincinnati’s Last Abortion Clinic Will Stay Open

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The city's last abortion clinic will remain open for now after state health inspectors granted an exemption to an anti-choice state law that requires all abortion clinics to have a transfer agreement with local hospitals, but also bans public hospitals from entering into those agreements with providers.

Cincinnati’s last abortion clinic will remain open for now after state health inspectors granted an exemption to an anti-choice state law that requires all abortion clinics to have a transfer agreement with local hospitals, but also bans public hospitals from entering into those agreements with providers.

The Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center, operated by Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio (PPSWO), had a long-standing transfer agreement with the University of Cincinnati Medical Center (UCMC). But after lawmakers enacted the public hospital transfer ban, UCMC rescinded that agreement.

PPSWO spent the next 14 months trying to secure a transfer agreement with area private hospitals and pursued a “variance” from the state requirement. (Under Ohio law, the director of the state health department has the authority to accept a clinic’s emergency plan for caring for patients in the event of an abortion-related complication in lieu of a private transfer agreement with a hospital, called granting a variance.)

Efforts to secure a private transfer agreement failed as area hospitals, many of them Catholic institutions with a stated opposition to cooperating in the delivery of abortion services, either rejected or ignored its requests.

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Meanwhile, the Ohio Board of Health, the agency in charge of implementing the regulations, also ignored PPSWO’s request for a variance. Then in October, the Ohio Department of Health cited PPSWO for its lack of compliance and threatened to revoke the clinic’s license.

Facing threatened closure, attorneys representing the clinic sued to block enforcement of the law, arguing it unconstitutionally targets abortion clinics for closure. The law has closed one clinic in the state, in Sharonville, when it was unable to secure a private transfer agreement and its request for a variance was denied.

PPSWO’s closure would have made Cincinnati, with a population of more than two million people, the largest metro area without a single abortion clinic.

On Thursday, Richard Hodges, director of the Ohio Department of Health, granted Planned Parenthood’s request for a variance. Instead of a transfer agreement with a private hospital, Planned Parenthood has agreements in place with four area doctors who have agreed to accept and care for patients at local hospitals in the event of an emergency.

“This ruling will ensure that women in Southwest Ohio continue to have access to safe and legal abortion,” said Jerry Lawson, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio.

Attorneys for the clinic will dismiss its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the public hospital transfer ban since its clinic license is no longer at risk.

“It is unfortunate that Planned Parenthood had to wait over 14 months and then file suit before receiving this decision but it is good to have this problem behind us,” attorney Al Gerhardstein said in a statement following the decision.

Under Ohio law, Hodges’ decision to grant the variance could be revoked at any time and for any reason.