CINCINNATI -- A federal judge canceled a hearing Monday in the case of two abortion providers, one in Cincinnati and one in Dayton, who are fighting to stay open while they challenge Ohio’s abortion laws.
U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett canceled the hearing in a Cincinnati courtroom and it has not been rescheduled, according to the court docket.
“We don’t know why the hearing was canceled; only that the judge indicated he didn’t need a hearing today,” said Danielle Craig, director of communications at Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio. “As far as we know, another hearing has not been scheduled.”
Planned Parenthood in Mount Auburn and Women’s Med Group in Kettering filed the lawsuit on Sept. 1, claiming that Ohio’s abortion laws are unconstitutional. It asked Barrett for an injunction to stay open while the case moves toward trial, which could take a year.
If Cincinnati’s last clinic closed, ours would be the largest metro area in the nation with no abortion provider.
It is unclear what will happen now that the injunction hearing was postponed. Calls to Planned Parenthoods’ attorney, Jennifer Branch, were not immediately returned.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Health notified the two clinics on Friday that their licenses would be revoked. The clinics will stay open while they appeal, Craig said.
“They have 30 days to ask for a hearing with the Department of Health,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. “Presuming the ruling is not in their favor, they can appeal in the court system.”
Ohio law requires surgical clinics to have a patient-transfer agreement with a private hospital, not a public hospital, in order to receive a license to perform abortions. The rule, passed by Republican lawmakers in 2013, does allow for exceptions, or “variances.”
But the newest regulation added by lawmakers in June adds a hurdle – variances will be automatically denied if a state health director fails to respond to them within 60 days. This means that a clinic can lose its license if officials simply ignore its request.
This appears to target clinics in Toledo, Dayton and Cincinnati, which are all struggling with variances or transfer agreements, Copeland said.
This rule, which takes effect Tuesday, is specifically targeted by the federal lawsuit.
But the health department denied the variance on Sept. 25 while the clinics were still operating under the old law. It is unclear how it affects the federal lawsuit.
“ODH indicated that we did not have enough back-up physicians, although there are no written guidelines for this,” Craig said.
Planned Parenthood has three back-up doctors, one fewer than it had on its variance application last year. That’s because one physician’s office was sold. She does not anticipate any problem finding another back-up physician, she said.
At the same time, officials at Planned Parenthood are trying to figure out their next step.
“I think we’re exploring a lot of options right now,” Craig said. “Some decision will be made in the next day or so. There are a couple of different routes we can go.”
Meanwhile, Copeland has been taking phone calls from national reporters. They are interested in Ohio’s strict new abortion laws – since 2010 half of the state’s 16 abortion clinics have closed – and Gov. John Kasich’s role in them.
His presidential bid has placed Ohio in the spotlight. Under the Kasich administration, the state has enacted some of the strictest laws in the nation.
This week state lawmakers could vote on the controversial Down syndrome bill. Abortion opponents want to make it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion if a woman is ending her pregnancy to avoid having a child with Down syndrome.
“A lot of people are looking at this now because Governor Kasich is running for president,” Copeland said.
This lawsuit, and others that may follow, could take years to decide, she added.