The Dish

A Threat To Abortion Clinics Outside The South

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

So far, the inane battle over whether abortion-clinic doctors must have admitting privileges at a local hospital has largely been clustered in Southern states. In Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, the needless regulatory requirement would force some or all abortion clinics to shut down; clinics have been fighting back, with some recent encouraging successes in the courts. But unconstitutional abortion restrictions are like whack-a-moles – strike one down in some state and three more states will pass them in its place.

Which brings us to Ohio. This is my home state, and an abortion clinic a few miles from where I grew up is currently suing it. Thank goodness. Take a look at the absurd scheme the state has enacted to force clinics into closing, via the Cincinnati Enquirer (emphasis mine):

The health department ordered the (Lebanon Road Surgery Center) closed, declining to grant an exception to a state rule that all outpatient surgery centers must have an agreement that allows it to transfer patients to a local hospital. The state prohibits abortion clinics from forming those agreements with public hospitals. Plus, many private hospitals, in part facing political pressure brought by abortion opponents, no longer grant abortion clinics a transfer agreement. Without it, the clinics are in violation of state rules and must be closed unless they get a variance from the health department. The Sharonville clinic had such a variance, but the health department decided in 2012 to deny it, requiring the clinic to get a hospital transfer agreement or close.

This is slightly different than the situations in Alabama, etc., where the fight is over doctors getting admitting privileges at a local hospital. The Ohio rule requires clinics to have a relationship with a hospital, in what is known as a transfer agreement. But the same Catch-22 applies to both situations, with the state effectively saying to clinics, hey, just jump through this hoop and you can stay open – oh, but p.s., jumping is illegal and we’re out of hoops.

In Ohio, all outpatient surgery centers are required to have hospital transfer agreements, but only abortion clinics are barred from seeking them with public hospitals. This is thanks to a law passed by Republican legislators last year. And don’t think they didn’t know that getting a transfer agreement from a private hospital would be virtually impossible for abortion clinics: The private system in Ohio is composed largely of religiously-affiliated hospitals. In Cincinnati, where Lebanon Road Surgery Center is located, the market is dominated by a Catholic health system that won’t even cover birth control in employee health plans.

Some insisted this whole thing was no big deal because clinics could simply seek an exemption—which the state is now refusing to grant. Emails uncovered by the Enquirer show the Governor’s office and Ohio Right to Life corresponding with health department officials about how it should reject the clinic’s exemption request. This is despite the fact that the clinic has several doctors who do have admitting privileges at several area hospitals, so clinic patients are perfectly poised to get hospital care should an emergency arise.

According to the Enquirer, two of Ohio’s 14 abortion clinics closed last year; two are in the midst of court battles over being ordered to close; and two are trying to get reprieve from the health department from the transfer-agreement rule. Can we hear again how this isn’t about banning abortion but protecting women’s health?

(Photo of Cincinnati clinic from