CINCINNATI (AP) – A judge was expected to decide Friday whether to allow a suburban Cincinnati abortion clinic – one of only two in the area – to remain open as it appeals a state closure order.
The Ohio Department of Health ordered the Lebanon Road Surgery Center of Sharonville closed this month after agency director Theodore Wymyslo decided to revoke the facility’s license, questioning whether the clinic had followed rules to provide backup care for its patients.
Attorneys for the clinic argue that it was ordered closed over political pressure involving some 240 emails sent by anti-abortion group members to the health department.
Hamilton County Judge Jerome Metz Jr. was to decide Friday whether to allow the clinic to operate as it appeals the closure order, a process that could drag on for months or years. The clinic will have to close by Thursday without his decision.
For the past three years, the facility has operated under an exception to state law that requires abortion clinics to secure a patient-transfer agreement with a hospital.
Unable to secure such an agreement, the clinic – with the department’s approval – has been using backup doctors who can admit patients to hospitals.
Wymyslo decided not to allow the clinic to continue as such, questioning why it hadn’t notified the department that one of its backup doctors no longer had admissions privileges, although the clinic had two other backup doctors.
The clinic maintains that it did notify the state of the change and that its patients were never in any danger.
Cincinnati civil rights attorney Jennifer Branch is also arguing that the administrative process that led the state to order the clinic closed took 15 months, during which the facility stayed open, and that allowing it to remain open during the lengthy court process would cause no harm.
“(Their) unhurried pace supports maintaining the status quo,” she wrote in a court filing.
Branch also argued that thousands of women in the Cincinnati area rely on the clinic’s services every year and that if forced to close, women will “be left with one option.”
The clinic is one of two that provides abortions in the Cincinnati region. If it closes, the clinic’s medical director, Martin Haskell, says that some women needing abortions at 18 to 22 weeks will be forced to travel to Cleveland, Chicago or Atlanta.
Additionally, poorer patients who got financial assistance at the clinic may be unable to afford abortions elsewhere, Haskell said.
Melissa Wilburn, senior assistant attorney general, argues in court records for the state that the clinic’s appeal of the closure order has “no chance of succeeding,” and that “the public interest is not served when a clinic in clear violation of the law is permitted to continue to operate.”
Wilburn argues that the matter is simple: The clinic doesn’t have a transfer agreement, is no longer allowed to use doctors in place of the agreement and, therefore, is not licensed to operate.
She rejected arguments from the clinic that it has operated safely for the past three years using backup doctors instead of a transfer agreement and should be allowed to continue to do so.
“No record of safety in the past can ever guarantee the future,” she wrote.
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