Toledo’s last abortion provider likely will need help from a federal appeals court if it is to stay open past this month. The Ohio Department of Health issued an atrocious order this week revoking Capital Care Network’s license, based on a state law that requires clinics that perform abortions to have an emergency-care transfer agreement with a local hospital.
Despite the trumped-up restrictions that politicians are placing on women’s reproductive rights, in Ohio and across the country, there is a glimmer of hope that courts will acknowledge the unconstitutionality of such laws.
Last year, Gov. John Kasich and Ohio’s Republican-controlled General Assembly inserted language in the state budget that requires surgical centers to have agreements with hospitals to transfer patients, ostensibly to deal with complications that might arise. That provision is as unnecessary as it is cynical: Under federal law, if an emergency occurs, no local hospital could refuse to treat a patient.
Yet knowing that most private hospitals would not want the stigma of becoming a partner of an abortion provider — and prohibiting public hospitals from doing so — politicians effectively are forcing most Ohio abortion clinics to close.
The shutdown of Capital Care Network would require Toledo area women to seek abortions in the Detroit area or other cities in Ohio that are at least two hours away. Women with financial or transportation limitations are unduly burdened — or unable — to pursue such options.
Ohio has two abortion providers in Cleveland, one in Akron, three in Columbus, one in Dayton, and two in Cincinnati. It is not easy to travel such distances for a medical procedure that likely is already emotionally difficult, nor should any women be put in the position of having to do so.
This week, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit blocked a Mississippi law that would have shut that state’s sole abortion clinic. Mississippi requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges to local hospitals.
The three-judge panel did not overturn the law or address the admitting-privilege requirement; the court’s ruling does not affect Ohio. But the judges ruled that enforcing the law would illegally shift Mississippi’s constitutional obligations to neighboring states.
The principle is the same: The ability to seek an abortion is a constitutional right, and state governors and lawmakers cannot obstruct that right to pursue an ideological, political — and largely partisan — agenda that threatens women’s health. Nor can politicians seize the right to make medical decisions that belong to a woman, her family, and her doctor.
Capital Care officials say they will appeal this week’s decision by the health department. It’s to be hoped that Ohio courts will protect and restore women’s full reproductive rights, since the governor and legislature will not.