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After denying variance request, Ohio revokes clinic's license

Ohio officials have revoked the Women's Med Center of Dayton's operating license, saying the abortion clinic does not meet the state's criteria for a variance to a patient transfer agreement requirement, the AP/Toledo Blade reports (AP/Toledo Blade, 12/1).

State regulations

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.

An Ohio court found the state's application of the requirement to another clinic, Capital Care, to be unconstitutional. An appeals court upheld the ruling.

State denies variance request

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) denied Women's Med's variance request in October.

ODH last year told the clinic it must have contracts with at least three physicians. The clinic's latest application included three contracts, but Ohio Director of Health Richard Hodges denied the request, claiming that the contracts did not "provide the same level of patient health and safety that a written transfer agreement with a local hospital assures for 24/7 backup coverage."

The clinic is in the process of an administrative appeal following the state's move last year to revoke its license. A hearing administrator in September recommended the state proceed with the revocation because of the transfer agreement requirement.

Nonetheless, Melanie Amato, an ODH spokesperson, in November said while the state could proceed with the revocation, there is "no time frame to act on the hearing officer's recommendation" (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/16).

Latest developments

State officials signed the revocation order on Wednesday. Women's Med said it will appeal the decision.

Jennifer Branch, an attorney for Women's Med, noted the clinic has not "had any problems" under the current setup with three physicians. Further, she notes that physicians might be deterred from contracting with abortion clinics for fear of antiabortion-rights harassment and violence. According to Branch, the harassment efforts have included posters, mailers and vehicles circulating through providers' neighborhoods that publicized their names.

Separately, Jaime Miracle, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said it will support the clinic and take the matter to court if needed. "We will not let politics get in the way of health care," she said (AP/Toledo Blade, 12/1).