COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A Planned Parenthood clinic in Cincinnati has gotten a state waiver allowing it to continue offering surgical abortion services, months after the city came close to being the largest metropolitan area in the country without abortion access.
Ohio law requires surgical clinics to have a patient-transfer agreement with a private -- not public -- hospital in order to receive a license to perform surgical abortions. The requirement, passed by Republican lawmakers in 2013, does allow for exceptions, or "variances."
And a new regulation, which took effect in late September, adds an extra 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 state officials simply ignore its request.
In October, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett issued a preliminary injunction to ban Ohio health officials from acting on that new rule while a lawsuit works its way through the courts.
Though it doesn't have a patient-transfer agreement, Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio does have agreements with local doctors who have admitting privileges at hospitals here.
A Department of Health spokesman said the department director granted a variance Friday for a clinic in the city's Mount Auburn neighborhood. Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio will need to reapply for its variance in late May 2016.
According to the lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood and another clinic in Kettering, Ohio, it's difficult for them to meet the state requirements because of "hospitals' religious and political opposition to abortion" and "because of hospitals' fear of the harassment and intimidation they and their doctors would face if they were to enter into a [patient-transfer agreement] with an abortion clinic."
Those requirements, along with other state laws, “do nothing to increase patient safety or health and are not medically necessary,” according to the clinics' lawsuit. They are seeking to have a judge declare the rules unconstitutional.
In granting the preliminary injunction, Barrett wrote the clinics had “likelihood of success” moving forward with the case.
The Ohio Attorney General’s office argued that the state’s new restrictions are meant to protect patient safety.
“If the clinics have their way … facilities that lack an important safety requirement would be permitted to continue to operate and to continue putting patients at risk. It is precisely this concern that the automatic suspension provision seeks to prevent,” assistant Ohio Attorney General Nicole M. Koppitch wrote.
But the judge saw things differently.
“At this time, the connection between the denial of the variance and the health and safety concerns is tenuous,” Barrett wrote.