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'Incremental' Antiabortion-Rights Strategy Is Curbing Abortion Access in Ohio, Op-Ed States

"Ohio lawmakers' recent actions against Planned Parenthood and their inch-by-inch approach to abortion legislation must be understood as part of a calculated [conservative] strategy to render a woman's constitutionally protected right to an abortion moot," Alicia Gibson, chair of Parents and Professionals of Planned Parenthood Cincinnati, writes in an opinion piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Gibson cites a "strict new anti-abortion law," currently blocked by a federal judge, "that, if enacted, would result in the closure of the two remaining abortion providers" in the Cincinnati area. Further, she notes, "A vote to defund Planned Parenthood passed the Ohio Senate last month and a similar bill has already made it th[r]ough the House," with "six more bills under consideration in the legislature that would further erode women's access to health care services."

She explains that "Mike Gonidakis, a Kasich-appointed member of the Ohio medical board and president of Ohio Right to Life, refers to this strategy as the 'incremental approach,'" in which "[l]aws are passed one at a time that reviewed individually will withstand court scrutiny but taken as a whole will make access to safe and legal abortion impossible for the vast majority of Ohio women."

Gibson writes, "This 'incremental approach' began with a law that requires ambulatory surgical facilities to have transfer agreements with a local hospital," which falsely "implies that abortion is a dangerous procedure." She explains, "Abortions are over 99 percent safe, and in those rare cases when complications arise, no transfer agreement is needed -- emergency centers are required by law to take in patients who need care."

Citing how Catholic-affiliated hospitals in Cincinnati prioritized "religious dogma above the medical safety of women undergoing abortion service," Gibson writes, "The University of Cincinnati Medical Center was the only area hospital that maintained a transfer agreement with Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio until 2013." At that time, "Ohio politicians passed a law that expressly forbid public hospitals from entering into such agreements -- singling out this form of medical care and no other," she writes.

Gibson explains that abortion providers in the Cincinnati area continued to operate after 2013 by submitting a variance request to allow "a handful of doctors" to act as admitting physicians. However, "the state sat on it for 14 months because it could not devise a coherent legal argument against it," and "[i]nstead came another step in the 'incremental approach'" with "a law that automatically denies variance requests after 60 days if the state does not take action on them," resulting in the loss of the requesting clinic's license. Gibson writes, "For the women of Cincinnati, this is the proverbial straw that has broken the camel's back."

She concludes, "It's time for us to say enough to politicians who arrogantly believe they know what's best for every woman and every family in every circumstance" (Gibson, Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/1).