Ohio officials have ordered this suburban Cincinnati clinic that performs abortions to close because it cannot get a transfer agreement with a local hospital in compliance with a new Ohio law. / Tony Jones, The Cincinnati Enquirer
CINCINNATI -- An abortion clinic can stay open as it fights an Ohio Department of Health decision to close it, a Hamilton County judge ruled Friday.
Two weeks ago, the health board ordered the closure of Lebanon Road Surgery Center, better known as Women's Medical Center, because it said the Sharonville clinic was violating one of the board's policies. Clinic lawyer Jennifer Branch argued that the clinic is doing what it has done for a decade with the health board's approval and should continue to do so despite renewed pressure from anti-abortion groups.
Common Pleas Court Judge Jerome Metz Jr. suspended the closure order Friday, saying closing the clinic could create a safety hazard for its patients.
"The suspension (of the closure order) will maintain the status quo until the merits of this appeal can be determined by the court," Metz said. "(I find) that based on all of the above considerations, an unusual hardship will result from the execution of the order pending determination of the appeal."
Attorneys for the health board argued Thursday that keeping the abortion clinic open could jeopardize the safety of the community because it is operating with a license the health board rescinded.
Cincinnati has two abortion clinics, but Friday's decision was important because the Sharonville clinic â?? which performs "thousands" of abortions each year, Branch said â?? is the only clinic for hundreds of miles that performs later-term abortions. The closest clinics for those abortions are in Cleveland, Atlanta and Chicago, she said.
Assistant Ohio Attorney Chris Wagner wouldn't comment. The Attorney General's Office defends Ohio government entities involved in legal issues.
Branch said, based on past experience, it will take about a year for the issue to be resolved in court. She admitted the longer it takes in court, the longer the clinic can stay open.
The state had ordered the clinic to close, saying it violated a health board policy. Women's Medical Center, it ruled, didn't have a written agreement that would allow it to transfer patients to local hospitals if needed.
That's true, Branch said, but the clinic hasn't had such an agreement in a decade because the health board has always allowed it to use an alternative to the written transfer agreement. That alternative was using doctors at the clinic who have privileges to practice at area hospitals where they can transfer patients.
She also said there have been no transfer problems at the clinic, partly because federal law requires hospitals to admit anyone with medical emergencies and continue to treat them until they are stable.
Political pressure applied by anti-abortion groups, Branch told the judge, resulted in the changes that caused the health board to order the clinic closed.
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