Toledo area women’s access to safe, legal, local abortion services shouldn’t depend on extremist politics or the preferences of a single corporation. Yet that’s the situation anti-choice activists and their allies in the Statehouse have forced in northwest Ohio, where the region’s only abortion provider will have to close unless it can obtain a so-called transfer agreement with a private hospital.
ProMedica appears to be the only hospital system able to prevent that outcome. But to avoid the political controversy of abortion, the region’s largest health-care provider is refusing.
Last week, abortion-rights advocates protested outside ProMedica Toledo Hospital, calling on the company to honor its commitment to public health and uphold abortion access for northwest Ohio women who may need it. The protest helped draw badly needed attention to the threat to reproductive rights in Toledo.
But persuading ProMedica to change its policy will take much more than isolated actions from a small group of activists. To protect abortion access, all pro-choice Toledoans must participate in a long-term, public campaign that calls on ProMedica to reverse its stance.
For more than a year, the anti-choice Ohio Department of Health has worked to shut down Capital Care Network, Toledo’s last remaining abortion clinic, under a bogus state law that requires abortion providers to obtain a transfer agreement with a private hospital to handle emergency cases. That mandate does nothing to enhance women’s safety, because federal law requires hospitals to treat patients who need emergency care in any event.
Capital Care Network previously met the transfer requirement through an agreement with the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. But another obstructionist provision that the Republican-majority General Assembly and Gov. John Kasich tacked onto the new state budget requires a transfer agreement to be with a hospital within 30 miles.
State law bans public hospitals from entering into such agreements, which rules out the University of Toledo Medical Center. Mercy, a Catholic system, also won’t do it, and wouldn’t be expected to.
ProMedica, a private system that cites its credentials as a promoter of superior health care, is in the best position to keep Toledo’s only abortion clinic open. Doing so would not impose any cost or administrative burden on the company.
ProMedica insists that signing a transfer agreement would amount to “choosing a political position” on abortion. Yet by refusing, it’s already chosen a position: one that is contrary to science, women’s health-care needs, and the Constitution.
Eroding access to abortion represents one of the most serious public health threats that Toledo and similar communities all over the nation face. As many as one in three American women will have an abortion in her lifetime, researchers estimate.
Yet state governments such as Ohio’s, which are dominated by political extremists, are legislating away abortion access. They pursue insidious tactics such as transfer agreements, forced ultrasounds, mandatory waiting periods, and even laws that require women who seek an abortion to take a medically unnecessary, potentially harmful, and often prohibitively expensive dose of medication.
These policies have forced half of Ohio’s abortion providers to close. They have put the cost of abortion beyond the means of women who need it, most of whom are poor and already are raising children.
Legally, ProMedica has the right to make any bottom-line business decision it wants. But as northwest Ohio’s chief medical provider, it also must be held accountable for meeting or shirking its public-health responsibility to this community.
If ProMedica executives want to provide the face of medical access and quality of care in northwest Ohio, the company’s Toledo area constituents should expect them to earn that reputation.
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