The state law cited by abortion opponents in objecting to a contractual relationship between the University of Toledo and two local abortion clinics contains no direct connection to the so-called transfer agreements that have put the existence of the two clinics in jeopardy.
A 2011 addition to the Ohio budget bill prohibits Ohio state-supported or sponsored hospitals from performing abortions, but does not explicitly prohibit them from entering a transfer agreement to treat women who run into medical complications during an abortion procedure.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said the university was not in violation of state law and she accused UT President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs of caving to “intimidation” from the head of Ohio Right to Life, Mike Gonidakis, because he is a member of the State Medical Board, which oversees the licenses of doctors.
“I think it has to be awfully intimidating when the governor’s man on the state medical board runs an organization that pressures you on an issue,” Ms. Copeland said. “That has to be intimidating and it’s why he shouldn’t be on the medical board.”
Ms. Copeland said Toledo abortion clinics are studying their legal options, and said there may be other hospitals in Ohio that can and are willing to sign a transfer agreement. She said it was not clear whether such agreements had to be with local hospitals.
A week after taking criticism from the anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life and a state representative, Dr. Jacobs on Thursday said that the UT Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio, would not renew its contract with Capital Care Network, at 1160 W. Sylvania Ave., and would end negotiations to establish an agreement with Center for Choice, at 328 22nd St.
State health regulations in place since 1996 require all ambulatory surgical facilities to have such an agreement to accept patients who experience medical complications. The agreement doesn’t require the hospital to perform an abortion.
UT officials — including Dr. Jacobs, university spokesmen, and several members of the UT Board of Trustees — have refused to return phone calls to The Blade explaining why the university took action that could end local women’s ability to obtain abortions in Toledo. The university did issue a statement Friday:
“The issue of abortion is one that divides people of good conscience in every community, including at this institution. As a public university, UT takes no position on the issue and respects the views of all,” said Larry Burns, vice president for external affairs. “That said, the University of Toledo Medical Center will in every circumstance provide medical care to any patient regardless of the reason that care is needed or the choices a patient makes prior to his or her arrival at our hospital.”
ProMedica spokesman Tedra White said the hospital system does not perform elective abortions and performs abortions only in life-saving situations. She said ProMedica does not have any transfer agreements in place. Ms. White would not comment on whether the hospital might establish a transfer with the two clinics. Mercy Health System spokesman Sarah Velliquette said the Catholic hospital system has no agreements with abortion clinics.
State Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon), who participated in last week’s news conference with Ohio Right to Life, said he appreciates Dr. Jacobs’ decision to end the transfer agreement even as he is seeking clarification of the law. He hopes to add the language as an amendment to the current $63.3 billion, two-year budget under debate in the House and that could come to a vote in that chamber within the next two weeks.
“We actually had a meeting on this this week,” he said. “We don’t have a problem with having a transfer agreement as long as the facility is not doing abortions. Essentially, no public institution in any shape or form should have a transfer agreement with a facility that does abortions.”
Mr. Gonidakis was appointed to the 12-person board in November by Republican Gov. John Kasich. The board oversees doctors’ licenses and does not set policy, he said. He said the lack of a transfer agreement won’t harm any women because all nonprofit hospitals must accept any patients who show up in the emergency room. And he labeled as “absurd” the allegation that his position on the board would be intimidating to Dr. Jacobs.
“We license doctors and take away the licenses of doctors who fail to meet the standards of the medical board. Our meetings are public. Anyone can attend them,” he said. There are nine doctors on the board, including physicians who are pro-choice, and a staff of 82.
In his letter to Capital Care Network on Thursday, Dr. Jacobs implied the agreement could be construed as illegal. He said UT would not renew its current contract when it expires July 31, but that, “should Ohio law affect the validity of this transfer agreement, the University of Toledo may be required to terminate this transfer agreement sooner.”
The agreement with UT came about because the Ohio Department of Health in 2012 threatened to revoke Capital Care Network’s license because it had no transfer agreement in place. The threat was lifted when the clinic signed an agreement with Scott Scarborough, UTMC executive director and UT senior vice president, on Aug. 17.
Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) said she was sorry to see the University of Toledo placed in the position it was and suggested what happened in Toledo is part of a much broader agenda by the pro-life movement.
“The [2011-2012 budget] prohibited institutions, in my interpretation as a layman, from supporting the actual abortions,” she said. “The emergency care of someone who received an abortion somewhere else, in my opinion, does not cross that line … I understand why Dr. Jacobs and others there had to look at the bigger picture as it relates to the university, because there’s going to be more made of this.
“It’s a movement all across the state,” she said. “If this organization was successful in its attempt here in Toledo, it will be successful all across the state in accomplishing its goal of closing down all abortion clinics in Ohio without the legislature having to act.”
Rep. Nickie Antonio (D., Lakewood) said she believes this is a court case in the making.
“I do want to know why they acquiesced so readily,” she said. “I don’t have that detail. It’s very sad.”
She said pro-choice lawmakers will have to closely examine any abortion-related amendment offered in the upcoming budget.
“We’re talking about risking women’s lives,” she said. “If a patient has a legally, constitutionally sanctioned medical procedure and then can’t get the care they need, would you want that on your conscience? That’s unconscionable.”
Blade Columbus Bureau Chief Jim Provance contributed to this report.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.