Bobbi Radeck, former state director for Concerned Women of Ohio, holds a sign during a protest in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse last week. On Wednesday, a Sharonville clinic that performs abortions decided not to fight last weekâ??s rulings that would cause it to stop providing abortions. / Liz Dufour, The Cincinnati Enquirer
CINCINNATI - A suburban clinic has ceased giving abortions, abandoning its court fight and leaving the Cincinnati area with one abortion clinic.
Women's Med in Sharonville had appealed in court the Ohio Department of Health's ruling to revoke its surgical license. The clinic hasn't been able to attain a patient-transfer agreement with a local private hospital, as a new law requires. Ohio law allows the state Health Department to grant exceptions to such rules, but the department denied Women's Med a so-called "variance," as it had received in past years.
On Friday, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Jerome Metz Jr. ruled he lacked jurisdiction to override the order from the Health Department. Ohio rules give the state Health Department's director "sole discretion" to decide whether such clinics can operate without a transfer agreement - in which local hospitals agree to admit clinic patients if needed.
Women's Med - also known as the Lebanon Road Surgery Center - said Wednesday it would not appeal Metz's decision.
Instead, it will see patients in Cincinnati for their legally required pre-abortion appointment, then send them to a Dayton facility, also owned by Martin and Val Haskell, for abortions.
"Abortion access is now severely endangered for Cincinnati area women with only one provider remaining," Val Haskell said in a statement. "This sole provider is also soon to be closed if Governor (John) Kasich has his way."
Wednesday's decision will leave Ohio with 10 abortion clinics, down from 14 at the beginning of 2013, before new state regulations went into place. Of the remaining 10, three are in limbo because of the transfer-agreement law, an abortion restriction whose latest version went into effect last year.
The president of Ohio Right to Life, which has worked with lawmakers on most abortion restrictions, called the end of abortions at Women's Med "good public policy for Ohio."
"If a facility fails to ensure that they are operating at the legally required health and safety standards to protect women then certainly they should close," Michael Gonidakis said in a statement. "This appears to be the end of a long battle to protect life in Greater Cincinnati."
The Sharonville clinic's owners decided to abandon its court battle because of the cost of the legal fight. The center's doctors prefer to concentrate on providing medical services to patients, attorney Dorothea Langsam told reporters. It will continue to provide other women's reproductive health care services.
"The cost and the energy that is required to litigate is not considered worth it," Langsam said. "It's a difficult day. ... It is disappointing for those who care about reproductive health care. It certainly makes it more difficult for them to exercise the legal right to obtain an abortion."
Southwest Ohio women seeking an abortion now have two remaining options. Both of those clinics are hoping the Health Department will allow them to stay open.
Planned Parenthood in Mount Auburn lacks a patient-transfer agreement, as does the second Women's Med facility in Dayton. They're are waiting to hear whether the health department will grant them exceptions to the transfer-agreement rule. If the state Health Department denies them the "variance," the Cincinnati metropolitan region - including Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana - would become the largest in the country without an abortion clinic, according to an Enquirer analysis.
The Sharonville clinic was the only one in Cincinnati that performed abortions later in pregnancy - through the 22nd week of gestation. Now, those patients seeking later abortions because of a fetal anomaly or a health-threatening condition will have to go to Dayton.
More than half of the clinic's patients have incomes that place them at or below the poverty level, "so, transportation to Dayton (and for an abortion) is difficult," Langsam said.
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