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With Ohio abortion restrictions on hold, providers and opponents adjust to uncertainty

A Planned Parenthood office in Columbus, Ohio
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
A Planned Parenthood office in Columbus, Ohio

Ohio’s eight facilities providing surgical and medication abortions are open because of a ruling earlier this month. A Hamilton County Common Pleas Court put the ban on the procedure at about six weeks into a pregnancy, which went into effect in June, on hold until October 12. Statehouse correspondent Jo Ingles takes a look at what’s been happening at Ohio’s abortion clinics since the Supreme Court decision that cleared the path for states to ban abortion.

In June, the story about a ten-year-old Ohio girl pregnant by rape who had to travel to Indiana for an abortion made headlines. But court filings in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court show two dozen other situations where other Ohio women and girls were under extreme duress after the six-week ban was put into place – including two minors, one a 16-year-old victim of incest who left Ohio for an abortion. That forced investigators to drive out of state to retrieve the tissue to submit for testing at a crime lab.

As the state’s Attorney General, Republican Dave Yost is the defendant in that case. He admits the state’s abortion ban could have been constructed better to make exceptions clear, but it’s part of the discussion around this issue.

“For the first time in 50 years, the vast majority of people that don't want to think about this are confronted with what are what is the morality of the thing and what should be society's response. We're going to have those conversations. It's an atrophied debate.”

The court filing says two pregnant women found out they had cancer but couldn’t get immediate cancer treatment OR abortions. There were other cases of women who were ill, who had ectopic pregnancies that developed in fallopian tubes, or who had fetuses with fatal abnormalities. And while none of the women died from the lack of abortion, in some of those cases, the court filing says they suffered irreparable harm. Gabe Mann with Pro-Choice Ohio says this isn’t news to him.

“This happens all of the time in communities across Ohio. This happens in every one of Ohio’s 88 counties. Yes, here we have a few examples in this court case but they are not extreme, they are not unusual.”

Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis defends the ban, and some of the cases listed in the court filing, such as ectopic pregnancy, qualify for exemptions. And if patients are enduring hardships because doctors won’t perform abortions that Gonidakis says are allowed, patients should file complaints with the state medical board – which he sits on.

“And then the state medical board will then do an investigation on the doctor for not doing something that they are legally allowed to do.”

But doctors in the filing say the law is vague and flawed. The arguments saying Ohio’s constitution protects the right to abortion were enough to convince the judge to put the state ban on hold last week.

“The moment that we heard the news, we moved with a sense of urgency.”

That’s Kersha Deibel, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio. She says her Cincinnati abortion clinic has been busy - not only with an increase in Ohio patients who have had to delay abortions, but also from patients from surrounding states and even as far away as Georgia. But she says they have prepared for the increased demand.

"We saw this moment coming for years so for years, we have been partnering and working very closely with our regional partners. We have four patient navigators who are supporting and making sure that patients, no matter what, can be seen and the places they need to get here so we are staffed and ready to see patients as they need.”

Deibel says her clinic has been extending hours and even opened this past Sunday, trying to keep up with a higher-than-normal demand. And she knows there could be a day when the state’s ban is reinstated. The Hamilton County Judge has put it on hold until October 12 while he examines its constitutionality. Freda Levenson is with the ACLU of Ohio.

“The case will be moving forward and the judge will be making a determination as to the ultimate answer – does the Ohio constitution protect the right to abortion in our state?”

And regardless of what happens in that court, both Levenson and Gonidakis know where this fight is ultimately headed – to the Ohio Supreme Court, where Republican justices constitute the 4-3 majority