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Ohio approves abortion clinic's request for variance to TRAP law

The Ohio health director on Friday granted a Planned Parenthood clinic in Cincinnati a variance to a patient transfer requirement that targets abortion providers, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Sanner, AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/27).

Background

Ohio's 2014-2015 budget (HB 59) included a requirement for abortion clinics in the state to have a patient transfer agreement with a hospital. Public hospitals are prohibited from entering into such agreements with abortion clinics.

Gov. John Kasich (R) last year signed a state budget (HB 64) that required abortion clinics to arrange a patient transfer agreement with a hospital no more than 30 miles away or request a variance from the requirement.

The law also requires the state health director to grant or deny a clinic's variance request within 60 days. Clinics unable to obtain a variance within 60 days are required to close, although they are permitted to reopen if they obtain approval at a later time. If the clinic's variance request is denied, its operating license is automatically suspended.

In September 2015, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) denied variance requests from the Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio (PPSWO) clinic in Cincinnati and the Women's Med Center of Dayton, which are the only remaining clinics in southwest Ohio. Later that month, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett ruled that the clinics could remain open while they appeal the license revocation decision.

The clinics had made alternative arrangements with three physicians previously, and after the ruling made arrangements with a fourth physician and filed another variance request. The operators of the two clinics also filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the requirements. In October 2015, Barrett issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the law while the federal lawsuit moves forward.

In November 2015, Richard Hodges, the state's director of health, granted the Planned Parenthood clinic in Cincinnati a variance that lasted until May 31.

Hodges denied the variance request for Women's Med. ODH held a hearing regarding Women's Med's variance request in April (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/28). The hearing examiner is expected to make a recommendation on Women's Med's variance request in July, according to ODH spokesperson Melanie Amato.

Variance details

Hodges in a letter to the PPSWO clinic's attorney granting the variance request cited the agreement with four physicians as a factor in his approval, the AP/Bee reports. The variance is in effect until the clinic's license expires on May 31, 2017.

Jerry Lawson, PPSWO president and CEO, on Friday expressed approval for the variance. However, he also noted that the "requirement for a written transfer agreement or variance is entirely unnecessary and is just another strategy on the part of the state to place unconstitutional barriers to a woman's right to a safe and legal abortion" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/27).