The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a Texas law, similar to one in Ohio, which critics say has regulated nearly half of each state’s abortion clinics out of existence.
Monday’s high court decision, a victory for pro-choice advocates, brings some clarity to a patchwork of federal rulings on state laws that balance health, political ideology and access to abortions.
The rare majority ruling throws out a Texas law that abortion clinics find hospitals that agree to treat their patients or close. In Ohio, hospitals only need to agree to let patients in the emergency room.
The two states’ laws differ enough to cast doubt over whether overturning one will impact the other.
Dan Tierney, spokesperson for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, said the states’ laws are “not analogous.”
“Ohio does not have a law regarding admitting privileges regarding ambulatory surgical facilities,” Tierney argued, explaining that Texas, unlike Ohio, has the same standards for abortion providers and ambulatory surgical facilities.
But Ohio does prohibit abortion clinics from operating without a transfer agreement. Last year, the Ohio Department of Health leaned on state law to deny approval of two abortion clinics because they had three instead of four doctors listed in their applicable hospital transfer agreement.
Ohio law goes further still. The 2013 Republican-led state budget bill forced abortion-seekers to view ultrasounds, stripped Planned Parenthood of tax dollars and — to the issue at hand — barred public hospitals from entering transfer agreements for emergency room care.
Without turning to public hospitals for help, some abortion clinics closed as their numbers halved in three years.
Praise from the left
Liberals and pro-choice advocates are lauding Monday’s 5-3 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has routinely split on issues like immigration and union dues since Antonin Scalia, a conservative and tie-breaking ninth jurist, passed away in February.
“Today, the Supreme Court sent the unmistakable message that safe, legal and accessible abortion is the law of the land, regardless of the political climate,” said Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
Benjamin had joined a chorus of physicians who consider hospital admitting-privilege laws burdensome and unnecessary, from a medical standpoint.
“Simply put, limiting access creates poorer health outcomes for women, their partners, their families and the health of the public,” Benjamin said.
Local female lawmakers also welcomed the high court ruling.
“Today’s common sense SCOTUS decision reaffirms what my colleagues and I have been arguing at the Statehouse for far too long,” said Rep. Greta Johnson of Akron. “Women have a legal right to access comprehensive health care without burdensome, politically motivated roadblocks.”
“Continued attacks on women’s reproductive health care only endanger public health and should not stand,” said Rep. Kathleen Clyde of Kent, plugging House Bill 370, a bill she co-authored in October to eliminate the mandatory transfer agreements. “With Texas’ medically unnecessary laws now overturned, I urge my colleagues to repeal similar unconstitutional Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws here in Ohio.”
Officials at the Ohio Department of Health, which must implement Ohio law in light of the court ruling, were unclear on the impact. “This ruling is too premature for ODH to comment,” spokesperson Melanie Amato said. “We are still reviewing the decision.”
Case Western Reserve University law professor Jessie Hill, whose legal expertise includes reproductive rights issues, said overturning the Texas anti-abortion law was “as sweeping a victory as the plaintiffs could have hoped for.”
Hill agreed that abortion clinics must provide patients a path to an emergency room, not necessarily a hospital stay, as the rules in Texas require. Still, the ruling “could potentially open up a legal challenge to the written transfer agreement” in Ohio, she said.
Meanwhile, Ohio is being sued over another law aimed to curtail abortions.
In February before he dropped his presidential election bid, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a Republican-led bill to bar tax dollars from flowing to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that perform or support abortions. The legislation followed a series of heavily edited videos produced by conservative operatives who probed the alleged sale of aborted fetuses. The law also is among 15 across the nation to be challenged in court by Planned Parenthood in the past year.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @ABJDoug.