National Partnership for Women & Families

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Ohio clinic continues to seek variance to TRAP law

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) on Tuesday held a hearing regarding the licensure of an abortion clinic in the state, WHIO reports (WHIO, 4/26).

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, ODH denied variance requests from the Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio 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 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 permits the clinic to remain open until May 31. Hodges denied the variance request for Women's Med (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/19).

Clinic argues that variance requirements are met

According to WHIO, William Kepko, the independent hearing examiner, heard arguments from an attorney for Women's Med and from state officials regarding whether the clinic's license should be revoked for failing to have a patient transfer agreement in place.

During the hearing, Jennifer Branch, the attorney for Women's Med, argued that the clinic meets the requirements for a variance to a state patient transfer requirement. She said the clinic has protocols for transferring patients should such situations arise that are in compliance with state law. According to abortion-rights supporters, the rules aim to close abortion clinics (WHIO, 4/26).

Kepko said he will make a recommendation to Hodges about how to proceed. There is no deadline for the examiner's report, according to Melanie Amato, an ODH spokesperson. Kepko said he would work to give Hodges the recommendation as soon as possible (Carr Smyth, AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/26).