Operators of 2 Ohio abortion clinics sue over state hurdles

AP News
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Posted: Sep 01, 2015 8:26 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The operators of two southwest Ohio abortion clinics asked a federal court on Tuesday to declare recently enacted state laws governing their operations unconstitutional.

Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and Women's Med Group sued in U.S. District Court, targeting several provisions tucked into the state's two most recent operating budgets, signed into law by Republican Gov. John Kasich this year and in 2013.

"Such efforts are part of a deliberate strategy to severely limit access to abortion by imposing and enforcing laws and regulations that do not promote women's health or any other valid state interest," the lawsuit alleges.

The suit targets measures that require a certain category of surgical facility to get written agreements with nearby hospitals agreeing to take patients in an emergency, but that block public hospitals from entering these agreements. An additional law automatically suspends a facility's license when a requested variance from the emergency requirement is denied by the state or not acted on within 60 days.

The operators of clinics in Cincinnati and Dayton contend the various provisions violate either their patients' federal constitutional rights to liberty and privacy or the business owners' rights to due process and equal protection. They also say a state constitutional provision limiting bills to a single subject was violated.

The limits jeopardize women's health, lack a rational basis and impose a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions without furthering any valid state interest, the lawsuit alleges. It also states that both clinics will almost certainly close if the laws are allowed to stand. Planned Parenthood operates the Cincinnati clinic; Women's Med, the clinic in Dayton.

"Years of hostile policies have already decimated women's access to safe, legal abortion in Ohio," Cecile Richards, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. "If the courts do not step in, half of the health centers that provide abortion in Ohio will have closed in only two years."

Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Melanie Amato said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The department denied Women's Med Center's request for a variance to the patient transfer agreement rule in June. The facility, which has sought such a variance since 2012, resubmitted its application last month.

When the automatic suspension rule takes effect Sept. 29, all facilities with pending variance requests will have their licenses suspended.

In an email, Michael Gonidakis of Ohio Right to Life criticized the two clinics for bringing the lawsuit and called it "a shallow attempt" to get around standards and the law. He said he expects the lawsuit will be thrown out.