Mark Niquette?and Esme E. Deprez
COLUMBUS: Ohio is seeking to put abortion clinics in a Catch-22 with the latest tactic by Republican state lawmakers to stop the procedure in U.S. states.
A provision in the two-year, $61.7 billion budget would require that the state’s 12 abortion clinics have an agreement to transfer patients to a hospital in emergencies. It also would ban the state’s 18 public hospitals from making those deals with abortion providers. The Republican-run House of Representatives and Senate passed the budget Thursday. Republican Gov. John Kasich must sign the plan by Sunday.
Eight states mandate such agreements between clinics and hospitals, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which compiles data on reproductive health. The institute said Ohio is the first to bar public hospitals, which represent a minority of the state’s health-care facilities, from entering into them. The novel approach may force clinics to close, said Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher’s state issues manager.
“People have been arguing that we need these transfer agreements to make sure that women’s health is protected,” Nash said by telephone. “This removes that veil. It very clearly says no, what it really wants to do is shut down clinics. This is a way to eliminate access to abortion.”
In the past three years, state lawmakers have passed a record number of statutes regulating abortion. Some focus on when women can terminate pregnancies, such as Texas’ attempts to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Others target the ability of providers to operate. The strategy is to limit access instead of trying to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made the procedure legal.
Besides the transfer agreement requirement in the Ohio budget, Republican lawmakers ranked recipients of family-planning money, putting Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., which offers abortions among many health services, behind other providers. Republicans also incorporated an amendment to require doctors to determine, before performing an abortion, whether there is a fetal heartbeat and to inform the mother.
Echoing protests this week in Texas, opponents of Ohio’s measure wearing red and pink shirts rallied on the Statehouse steps and gathered in legislative chambers during debate. They shouted “shame on you” in the Senate after the vote there.
Eighteen of the state’s 207 hospitals are public, according to the Ohio Hospital Association. Jaime Miracle, policy director for NARAL Pro-Ohio in Columbus, said she expects private institutions to face increased pressure not to approve transfer agreements.
“The real question is how much of a chilling effect will this have,” Miracle said by telephone.
The transfer deals ensure efficient ambulance transport to a hospital, and “no taxpayer-funded entity should be propping up the abortion industry,” Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life in Columbus, said in an interview at the Statehouse.
Democratic lawmakers objected to the provisions, saying Republicans are “obsessed” with abortion and interfering with women’s health decisions.
“It forces the government into the most private and difficult situation a woman could face,” Rep. Debbie Phillips, an Athens Democrat and her party’s assistant leader in the House, said Thursday during debate.