State health director ruling another defeat for Dayton abortion clinic

Catherine Candisky - The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)

The Ohio Department of Health has dealt another blow to the Dayton area’s last abortion clinic.

State Health Director Amy Acton denied a request from Women’s Med Center of Dayton for a waiver from Ohio’s written-transfer agreement law. Without the variance, the clinic can’t be licensed and could be forced to close.

The decision was the second loss for Women’s Med Center in a week. Last Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court refused in a 4-3 vote to hear the clinic’s appeal of a lower court ruling upholding the Department of Health’s decision to close the clinic for failing to secure a patient transfer agreement with a local hospital.

The clinic remains open for now with its fate ultimately to be decided by the federal courts. A separate lawsuit pending before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is challenging the constitutionality of a similar law in Kentucky.

State health officials revoked the center’s operating license in 2016 for not having a transfer agreement with a nearby hospital or naming enough backup physicians for emergencies.

State law enacted in 2013 requires an “ambulatory surgical facility,” including abortion clinics, to have a written transfer agreement with a nearby hospital unless it is granted a variance by the state health director. Public hospitals are not permitted to participate in transfer agreements. The clinic had been operating under a state waiver from the health director that was not renewed.

In a letter Monday to clinic attorneys, Acton wrote, that the variance request was irrelevant “now that the Ohio Supreme Court has declined jurisdiction in the litigation regarding the 2016 revocation, that revocation is final, and (Women’s Med Center’s) license is revoked.”

In addition, the clinic’s request, which named four backup physicians in case of emergency, “does not sufficiently address how coverage by the back-up physicians is to occur and in what order the back-up physicians should be contacted.”

At this point, the clinic “may apply for a new ambulatory surgical facility license by submitting a complete application,” Acton wrote.

State officials declined to comment on the decision. Reaction is being sought from clinic attorneys.

The legality of state transfer agreements is being debated in Ohio and elsewhere. Last year, a federal judge in Louisville found Kentucky’s 1988 law requiring abortion clinics to have written agreements with an ambulance service and hospital for emergencies was unconstitutional, deeming it unnecessary and a barrier to women seeking legal abortions. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case earlier this month and could rule later this year.

Abortion opponents say such agreements are needed to ensure patient safety. Abortion-rights supporters argue the agreements are unnecessary because hospitals don’t turn away people in need of care, and lawmakers’ intent was to create hurdles for clinics to operate.

Catherine Candisky

The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)

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