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Abortion rights advocates in Ohio say a line item in the state budget passed in June is forcing abortion clinics to shut down.
The new regulation bans publicly-supported hospitals from having contracts known as “transfer agreements” with abortion clinics. But, without a “transfer agreement” the abortion clinics can’t do business with the hospital.
Two of Ohio’s 13 licensed abortion clinics have closed in recent weeks, and a third may have to shut down soon.
From the the Here & Now Contributors Network, Sarah Jane Tribble of WCPN explains.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. A third licensed Ohio abortion clinic may have to shut down because of a line item in the state's budget. The line bans publicly supported hospitals from having contracts known as transfer agreements with abortion clinics. And without a transfer agreement, the clinics can't do business with those hospitals. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WCPN's Sarah Jane Tribble reports.
SARAH JANE TRIBBLE, BYLINE: Last month, the parking lot at Toledo's Center for Choice was busy with cars. Inside, women talked and waited their turn with the doctor. But during a more recent visit, the lot was empty. Inside, Sue Postal, the Center's former director, took a break from cleaning equipment and packing records.
SUE POSTAL: We have had and met the most wonderful people here - men, women, moms, dads, aunts, uncles.
TRIBBLE: This clinic performed nearly 1,500 abortions a year. Now, access to abortion in Toledo will be much more limited.
POSTAL: It's a blatant attempt to make abortion inaccessible, and not one piece of this legislation doesn't necessarily make it safer for women.
TRIBBLE: Ohio is the first state to pass a law that specifically bans publicly supported hospitals from having formal contracts with abortion clinics. Clinics in Ohio and eight other states are required to have these contracts, or transfer agreements, in case of emergencies. They ensure the transfer of an abortion patient to a hospital, should the need arise. The new law created a catch-22 for Toledo's Center for Choice. It has to have a transfer agreement, but could no longer contract with the University of Toledo Medical Center, because it gets state aid. The two other private, local hospitals - one of which is Catholic - aren't interested in contracts with abortion clinics.
MIKE GONIDAKIS: We have laws in the state of Ohio that indicate our state tax dollars cannot pay for abortion. And as pro-life taxpayers, we believe our conscious rights were being trampled on, because it was an indirect way of paying for abortion.
TRIBBLE: That's Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. He helped Ohio lawmakers write the unique anti-abortion nuance that got inserted into the state budget. Gonidakis says his group's strategy is saving lives.
GONIDAKIS: We're at the lowest level of abortions in our state's history, because we take this incremental approach.
TRIBBLE: In the past decade, the number of abortions performed in Ohio has dropped 34 percent. There are several reasons for the decline, including more access to birth control and education, as well as more restrictions. The Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive rights nationally, says states are getting more creative and prolific, with 43 new anti-abortion laws enacted in the first six months of this year. Policy analyst Elizabeth Nash predicts more states will follow Ohio's lead.
ELIZABETH NASH: We are seeing this onslaught of overregulation around abortion clinics, and with that, these hospital relationships, transfer agreements or privilege bills moving at a very quick clip. And probably a lot of that will stand up in court.
GONIDAKIS: We are ground zero for the pro-life abortion debate nationwide.
TRIBBLE: Again, Mike Gonidakis of Ohio Right to Life.
GONIDAKIS: Most other states look to Ohio to see what works and what can be accomplished.
TRIBBLE: Back in Toledo, Capital Care Women Center, the remaining abortion clinic, is still open, but its transfer contract with the University of Toledo Medical Center expired yesterday. And officials at Ohio's Department of Health say they will soon start a process to revoke its license to operate. If it is shut down, the closest clinic for Toledo-area residents will be in Detroit, about 60 miles away. And Sue Postal, former director of the Center for Choice, says that will be a hardship for the mostly low-income women who often lack their own transportation.
POSTAL: Do I think what was in the budget will ultimately affect a woman somewhere in this city, county, state? Yes. And I don't know what the outcome will be for those people individually.
TRIBBLE: For HERE AND NOW, I'm Sarah Jane Tribble in Toledo.
HOBSON: And still to come: How do veterans feel about the president, Congress, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell"? We'll find out in a moment. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.