Cincinnati abortion clinic granted variance

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A Cincinnati abortion clinic can legally continue operating despite not having a required transfer agreement with a nearby hospital for emergencies, though that status lasts only about six months under Friday’s decision from the state.

The variance for Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio was granted because it named four physicians to provide backup care in lieu of having a hospital transfer agreement, Department of Health Director Richard Hodges told the facility’s attorney in a letter first obtained by The Associated Press.

The facility is pleased to get approval but still challenges the legality of the agreement requirement and other recent changes in state law, facility spokeswoman Danielle Craig said by email.

The number of Ohio abortion providers has dropped in recent years as state lawmakers passed restrictive new laws that affect the clinics. For example, the state required that surgical facilities in a certain category have agreements with nearby hospitals to take patients in an emergency, but also blocked public hospitals from entering these agreements.

“We continue to believe that the requirement of a written transfer agreement, the prohibition of public hospitals working with abortion providers and the variance requirement is unconstitutional because it places an undue burden on women seeking safe and legal abortion,” Craig said.

Another law suspends a facility’s license if a variance request isn’t granted within 60 days. Friday marked the end of that window for Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, health department spokesman Russ Kennedy said.

Hodges had granted the variance for previous licensing years when the facility had agreements with four backup doctors, but he initially rejected the 2015 request that named only three, saying the shorter list didn’t meet his “expectation that a variance provide the same level of patient health and safety that a written transfer agreement with a local hospital assures for 24/7 backup coverage.”

A fourth doctor was added, and the variance was approved. It expires May 31, meaning the facility would have to apply again in four months, Hodges’ letter said.

Kennedy said the department wouldn’t comment on the decision beyond what was in the letter.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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