The Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the Dayton area’s lone abortion clinic in its fight to stay open.
Supporters of the Women’s Med Center in Kettering vowed to fight on, and anti-abortion forces looked forward to the clinic’s closure.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland called Wednesday’s ruling a defeat for women, but she said the fight to get a transfer agreement required to keep the clinic open will continue.
“This clinic is still open, and abortion is available in Dayton for those who need it,” Copeland said.
How long, however, is unclear.
Gary Taphorn, chairman of the Board of Dayton Right to Life, said after the court ruling: “We are relieved to see this shameful chapter in the history of our region be closed.”
Women’s Med wanted the state’s top court to reverse a ruling from two lower courts that upheld the Ohio Department of Health’s order for the clinic to close. The state said Women’s Med did not secure a written transfer agreement — in which patients could be sent from the clinic to another hospital, if more care is needed — from a local hospital as required.
Clinic supporters have said the transfer rules are not medically needed and are political in nature. Opponents said the transfer agreements ensure patient health.
Margie Christie, executive director of Dayton Right to Life and president of the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio, said the decision handed down by the court is a major victory for the pro-life effort.
“We thank the Department of Health and the Attorney General’s Office for pursuing this matter and working to close this blight on our community,” Christie said.
If the Kettering center closes, the nearest clinics would be in Columbus and Cincinnati.
Women’s Med is about four miles from both Kettering Medical Center, operated by Kettering Health Network, and Miami Valley Hospital South, operated by Premier Health.
Copeland reiterated Wednesday her belief that a transfer agreement should be put in place.
“By refusing to sign a transfer agreement with this abortion clinic, they are denying patients access to the care they deserve,” Copeland said. “Today’s ruling is one more step in the wrong direction for Dayton. Premier Health should not be joining politicians in threatening abortion access.”
Christie said the hospital should not be bullied into signing a transfer agreement.
“Premier Health should be commended for taking women’s health care seriously and refusing the pressure of (Women’s Med) supporters” she said. “Premier’s board understands that abortion is not health care.”
Jennifer Branch, the attorney for Women’s Med, said the clinic will remain open as it explores appeals.
“We will be filing a further appeal so they can remain open,” Branch said. “You can actually appeal the court’s decision to the court — it’s called a motion for reconsideration, and we have 10 days to do that.”
Branch said the Women’s Med case is similar to abortion provider Capital Care of Toledo, the last provider in that city, which was without a transfer agreement until February of 2018 when ProMedica granted it one.
Branch represented Capital Care. The case got an unexpected boost from women’s rights icon Gloria Steinem, who urged ProMedica to sign Capital Care’s transfer agreement.
But Women’s Med is exploring another avenue to stay open: a variance agreement.
All ambulatory surgical facilities are required to have a transfer agreement with another hospital. Those that aren’t able to secure an agreement must request a variance from the Ohio Department of Health, according to Branch.
Women’s Med filed a new variance request in June and listed four doctors who have admitting privileges, Branch said.
“That is what was asked for by ODH,” Branch said. “ODH has not ruled yet, but must do so by Friday, as it had 60 days to rule and that will be the deadline.”
If ODH does not rule, it means the request is automatically declined.
“If they approve it, the variance would be good for a year,” Branch said.
Executive Director Elaina Ramsey of the Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice said it’s unconscionable that the Ohio Supreme Court would punish pregnant women by denying Women’s Med’s appeal.
“People deserve access to health care in their own communities, including access to safe, legal abortion care,” she said. “We will continue to honor people’s conscience and moral agency by supporting Women’s Med Center, which remains open for now.”
State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, praised the Ohio Supreme Court decision and anticipates that ultimately Women’s Med will close.
“This is great victory for life in Ohio,” he said. “I’m glad the Ohio Supreme court acknowledges the clinic is in clear violation of the law and should be shut down.”