Republicans in charge at the Statehouse dropped into the two-year state budget bill last summer provisions designed to shrink further the legal right to an abortion. They required abortion clinics to gain a transfer agreement with a local hospital. They also barred public hospitals from entering into such agreements with abortion clinics.
They had in mind what is happening in Toledo. One abortion clinic has closed, unable to conclude a transfer agreement. The remaining clinic in the city faces such a prospect. The state Department of Health recently found the clinic’s transfer agreement invalid. The department’s decision reflected another change crafted by lawmakers last year, granting broad authority to the department director — a political appointee — to determine whether a transfer deal passes muster.
One avenue for the abortion clinic to remain open is an expensive legal fight. If the doors shut, Toledo would be without a clinic entirely, the absence clashing with the U.S. Supreme Court precedent that allows the regulation of abortion as long as it does not involve placing an “undue burden” on women.
The health department struck down an agreement with the University of Michigan Health System. According to the Gongwer News Service, Michael Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, said that it was “absurd” for a clinic to seek an agreement with an out-of-state hospital. Yet the legislation his group pushed and gained left the clinic little choice but to look roughly 50 miles away.
Gonidakis and other abortion opponents argue that patient safety must be the highest priority. Know that if complications do arise during a clinic procedure, nearby hospitals are required by law to treat an emergency.
At what rate do complications occur? In a tiny fraction of procedures. So these transfer agreements do have the appearance of punitive paperwork.
Know, too, that in a recent newsletter, Ohio Right to Life championed closing five of the 11 abortion clinics across the state. The argument seems to be that such closures will reduce the number of abortions. Actually, one result will be less access, putting the safety of patients at risk as they seek alternatives.
Recall that the purpose of the clinics in the first place was to provide safe, regulated and high-quality treatment.
And those more likely to encounter the risk? Women without the means to travel or otherwise find a safe alternative.
According to Gongwer News, Gonidakis found reassurance in the abortion clinic being denied “special permission to sidestep Ohio law.” Yet in their way, Gov. John Kasich and Republican lawmakers have performed the sidestepping. They have defied court precedent, the essential holding that abortion is legal, a woman having the right to make her own difficult decision.
Now, as the Columbus Dispatch reported this week, Ohio Right to Life and allies are preparing to seek more restrictions in the next legislative session, perhaps barring insurers from covering abortions. That kind of excess echoes in recently enacted laws, legislators telling doctors how they should treat their patients. The result of regulation should not be, in effect, the loss of the right.