COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A Cincinnati abortion clinic has received state permission to continue operating despite not having a required transfer agreement with a nearby hospital for emergencies.
Ohio's health director said Friday that he's granting a variance for Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio.
In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, Director Richard Hodges said he's granting the special permission in part because the facility named four physicians to provide backup care. Planned Parenthood has to notify the state of any changes that affect the physicians' ability to provide services.
The variance expires May 31 of next year, when the facility's license expires.
Ohio requires surgical facilities in a certain category have agreements with nearby hospitals to take patients in an emergency, but it also blocks public hospitals from entering into those agreements.
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. According to a 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.
Barrett saw things differently.
“At this time, the connection between the denial of the variance and the health and safety concerns is tenuous,” he wrote.