Abortion battle

The Ohio Department of Health should allow Capital Care Network in Toledo to remain open


Toledo's last abortion clinic is fighting to keep operating, arguing that its emergency-care transfer agreement with the University of Michigan Health System meets a state mandate that it have such an arrangement with a local hospital. Given what’s at stake — including the ability of poor women in Toledo to get medically safe abortions — the Ohio Department of Health should recognize the agreement between Capital Care Network in Toledo and the Ann Arbor Hospital.

Let’s be clear: Ohio’s patient transfer requirements are not about protecting women’s health and safety. As constituted, they’re designed to put abortion clinics out of business.

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Effective last year, Ohio law requires such agreements for patients needing emergency treatment, but prohibits abortion clinics from forming patient-transfer agreements with a taxpayer-funded hospital. Ohio is the first state to pass such a Draconian law.

Center for Choice in Toledo closed last year because it could not get a patient transfer agreement.

Nevertheless, the patient transfer agreement between Capital Care Network and the University of Michigan Health System is legally sound. Out-of-state patient transfer agreements are not unprecedented. Moreover, Ohio law does not specify what “local” means, and a spokesman for the University of Michigan Health System said the hospital considers Toledo part of its service area.

The need for emergency care is rare. Terrie Hubbard, the owner of Capital Care Network, said she’s never had to make such a transfer in her four years as owner.

Moreover, when an emergency does occur, no local hospital can refuse to treat. Under federal law, hospitals cannot turn away patients who show up in their emergency rooms.

As Ms. Hubbard noted, in an imminent emergency the clinic would call 911 and have the patient transferred to ProMedica Toledo Hospital — with or without a transfer agreement. In less pressing cases, under the transfer agreement, the clinic would hire a helicopter service to take the patient to the University of Michigan.

To be sure, under normal circumstances, a transfer agreement with a hospital 53 miles away would not be considered ideal. But the state has forced Capital Care Network into this arrangement. The clinic had a transfer agreement with the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio. But the hospital opted not to renew it last year, and no private hospital in the region would take its place.

Capital Care’s closing would force even more Toledo-area women to travel to Detroit-area abortion clinics. Those who couldn’t afford to make the trip might seek unsafe and illegal alternatives, such as securing abortion drugs over the Internet. Using such drugs without medical supervision can risk a woman’s health or even life.

Under the circumstances, the only responsible decision for the Ohio Department of Health is to recognize Capitol Care Network’s transfer agreement with University of Michigan Health System.