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Published: Wednesday, 4/17/2013

UTMC saga: Choking women’s rights through bureaucracy

These stunts have nothing to do with protecting women’s health; they are political tactics

BY CHRISTINE LINK

Two weeks ago, the University of Toledo Medical Center notified two local abortion clinics that it would terminate contracts with them. For a moment, forget about the emotionally charged issue of abortion, and simply consider the political maneuvers that led to UTMC canceling these transfer agreements.

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Mike Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, a special-interest group, is appointed by his friend, Gov. John Kasich, to the State Medical Board of Ohio, a regulatory body that determines whether doctors get to continue practicing medicine.

Mr. Gonidakis — a lawyer, not a doctor — subverts the purpose of his position, using it to pressure and influence public-health institutions to bow to the political beliefs of his lobbying organization.

Mr. Gonidakis joins with other allies, including a prominent state legislator, Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon), to imply — if not outright claim — that UTMC is, or soon will be, breaking the law, even though he knows he is being dishonest.

Finally, the university caves in to the pressure and gives the group what it wants.

Does this sound like the way your government should operate?

The issue of abortion divides people of good conscience. But there is nothing conscientious about the way this shakedown was conducted. It is well-established that there was nothing illegal about the transfer agreements between UTMC and the abortion clinics.

Representative Wachtmann would like to change that, but he has yet to get it done. And even if he does, federal law requires hospitals to accept any patient whose life is in danger.

So in the rare instance that a woman suffers complications from an abortion in Toledo, UTMC would be obligated under federal law to treat her — with or without a transfer agreement. This federal law was not passed as a way to force hospitals to support abortion. It was passed to stop them from turning away low-income people who have babies and heart attacks in their parking lots.

The forces that have intimidated UTMC into submission know this. They’re responsible for the rules that force clinics to jump through the redundant hoops of transfer agreements in the first place.

Why go to all this trouble if federal law already has settled this issue? Because if you can’t shut clinics down in court, the best alternative is to choke them out of business with bureaucracy.

These stunts have nothing to do with protecting women’s health. They are political tactics: Force clinics to make transfer agreements with local hospitals, then collude with special-interest groups to intimidate those hospitals into rejecting the agreements by implying that they are, or soon will be, illegal.

It’s a shell game for those who would like to challenge Roe vs. Wade in court, but doubt their ability to win.

For Ohio Right to Life and Representative Wachtmann, the ends may justify the means. But their bully tactics should alarm those on all sides of this debate.

Christine Link is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.



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