Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Government attorneys on Tuesday asked the Ohio Supreme Court to override lower court rulings and uphold the state Health Department’s order to shut down Toledo’s last abortion clinic.
A lawyer for the clinic told the court that the state is trying to prevent women in northwestern Ohio from seeking legal abortions and is putting them at greater risk.
The case involves one of several restrictions Ohio lawmakers have placed on abortion clinics in recent years.
The Ohio Department of Health issued an order in 2014 to close Capital Care of Toledo because the clinic didn’t have a patient-transfer agreement with a local hospital.
Such agreements were mandated, and public hospitals barred from providing them, under restrictions Ohio lawmakers passed in 2013. The University of Toledo Hospital, which is public, withdrew from its transfer arrangement with Capital Care after the law passed.
The clinic sued and won in the lower courts, which ruled the restrictions were unconstitutional. Judges have allowed the clinic to continue operating as the legal dispute carries on.
Abortion-rights groups contend the transfer agreements and other restrictions not at issue in the case are medically unnecessary. They also say the city of 275,000 residents would be the first major city in Ohio without access to abortion services.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor on Tuesday asked about alternatives women would have if the Toledo clinic closes.
The state’s attorney, Stephen Carney, said the closest options would be Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich. — both about an hour’s drive from Toledo.
“Certainly we are not telling women, ‘You can’t have an abortion in Ohio, but you can go to Michigan’?” Justice William O’Neill asked.
Jennifer Branch, an attorney representing Capital Care, said women seeking an abortion would have to make more than one trip, adding up to several hundred miles.
“The danger to those women from an unlawful abortion would be health risks,” she said. “They could bleed. They could have an infection.”
Branch also argued that transfer agreements are unnecessary.
“They could call 911 if they needed to, there is nothing to prohibit that,” she told justices. “No one ever asks if there is a written transfer agreement.”
O’Connor asked, “Are there any other (ambulatory surgical centers) precluded from contracting or entering into a (written transfer agreement) with hospitals, any hospital public or private?”
Branch replied: “No, your honor, only abortion clinics.”