The Ohio Department of Health has granted a license to Women’s Med Center of Dayton, saving it from closure after years of legal battles. That health clinic is the last abortion provider in the Dayton area.
For the past couple of weeks, the clinic has not been offering surgical abortions, although it continued to provide medication abortions. ACLU staff attorney Elizabeth Bonham says the clinic did not have the proper licensure from the state to operate as a full-service abortion clinic.
At issue was a patient transfer agreement required under Ohio law. Each abortion service provider in the state must have a written agreement with a nearby hospital before it can be issued a license.
The Ohio Department of Health in 2016 ordered the Kettering clinic to close because it failed to obtain that patient-transfer agreement. The clinic appealed the decision, but after an Ohio appeals court sided with the state, the health department moved to revoke the clinic’s license in April.
The clinic continued to appeal, but after the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear the case last month, its legal options seemingly ran out.
"The center being without licensure for just a couple of weeks caused patients to have to go to Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis," Bonham says.
Unable to get a standard transfer agreement from a local hospital, the Women's Med Center got a group of doctors to sign an alternative agreement, which the state accepted. Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL ProChoice Ohio, says that because hospitals are legally required to treat patients, and the doctors signed on saying they will provide that treatment, the agreement met the requirements of the health department.
Stephanie Ranade Krider of Ohio Right to Life says she finds it "shocking that the Ohio Department of Health grant licensure to such an irresponsible individual." Ranade Krider says her group will continue to push for more inspections of the facility and offer prayer vigils outside.
Abortion rights supporters challenge that characterization of the Women's Med Center, which served 2,300 patients last year.
"This clinic has provided safe, quality abortion care to its patients for years and should remain open because patients rely on them for the care that they need," Copeland says.
Bonham says courts across the country have recently ruled laws like Ohio's that restrict abortion access are unconstitutional. She says this kind of regulation is designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for abortion clinics to operate.
The state continues to defend its rule on transfer agreements in federal court, where lawyers for the Women's Med Center and Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio want to block it. The former director of emergency medicine for Miami Valley Hospitals, as part of that federal suit, filed an afidavit saying the state's requirement is unnecessary.