The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday heard arguments about whether to keep Toledo's only abortion clinic open.
The case could affect Ohio's seven other clinics. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.
State lawmakers have passed bills in recent years that make it harder for abortion clinics to operate. And the state budget approved in 2013 included a big change for abortion clinics and their relationships with hospitals. It was controversial and set lawmakers far apart - as was evident in floor speeches given by Democratic Senator Charleta Tavares and Republican Senator Peggy Lehner.
"You're destroying health care for women, and as a woman, I'm offended."
"I find the loss of 50 million unborn children something that we should all be concerned about."
The new law means ambulatory surgical facilities need agreements with hospitals that outline details for taking in patients when more medical care is needed. But lawmakers also tucked a provision in the state budget that mandated no public hospital can enter into a transfer agreement with clinics that provide abortions. So in 2014, the Ohio Department of Health ordered the Capital Care Center of Toledo to close for lack of a transfer agreement with a local hospital. Two lower courts have ruled the clinic could stay open. Now it’s up to the Ohio Supreme Court. Jennifer Branch argued women are being denied their constitutional rights because of these new rules on transfer agreements.
“In Toledo, none of them would step forward to enter into a contract with this provider. Because of that, they are being denied their license to provide abortions to the women in Northwest Ohio.”
But Stephen Carney, the attorney for the state, said the law doesn’t treat clinics differently and blames this clinic for not pursuing an option that could help it stay open.
“There is one area of law that is specific – undue burden. We have a test for that. We have a process for that. They deliberately didn’t use that and we shouldn’t shoehorn that in now.”
Outside the court building after the hearing, opponents of abortion prepared a lectern to speak to the media. Supporters of abortion rights horned in – literally – by chanting in a bullhorn and unveiling banners in the background.
NARAL Pro Choice Ohio’s Kellie Copeland says she thinks attorneys for the abortion clinic made their case.
“It’s clear that the state of Ohio has discriminated against abortion providers simply because that is the type of health care they provide. And certain politicians in the Statehouse and Governor Kasich disagree so they have perpetrated a witch hunt against abortion providers through regulatory abuse.”
Copeland isn’t declaring victory though. She wanted Justice Sharon Kennedy to recuse herself, because she spoke at a fundraiser for Toledo Right to Life this year. Kennedy declined to step off the bench for the case, saying she reviewed the request that she recuse herself and found it "without merit". Kennedy asked no questions and made no remarks during the arguments.
Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, says the restrictions in question are constitutional. And he says it’s important to remember lawmakers are doing the will of Ohio voters who elected them.
“What our legislature has done is a clear example of elections have consequences. If you elect a pro-life legislature and a pro-life Governor, you’re going to get pro-life laws. We are at our lowest level in our state’s history. We went from 16 abortion clinics. We are at seven now. Hopefully we will drop it two more if we can get the Supreme Court to rule in our favor.”
The ruling from the Republican dominated Court could affect not only the facility in Toledo but the remaining seven clinics in Ohio, which all have to have transfer agreements as well. Ohio has half the number of abortion clinics it had in 2010, when Republicans won the governor's office, and majorities in the Statehouse and the Supreme Court.