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Judge orders abortion clinic to close

A Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge has ordered a Sharonville abortion clinic to close within five days.

Judge Jerome Metz Jr. sided with the state on the closure issue during a hearing Friday, saying the state health director’s order can’t be overturned.

“The director’s refusal to grant a variance shall be final and shall not be construed as creating any rights to a hearing,” Metz said, quoting from the law. “The court has no jurisdiction to review either the decision of the director or the procedure by which he made that decision.”

Metz stayed the state ordered closure order pending the court procedures because at the beginning of the case he felt there was a chance the abortion clinic could win on the merits. But he said since that is no longer the case, he would allow the current stay to expire as scheduled in five days.

Lebanon Road Surgery Center’s owner, Dr. Martin Haskell, has been fighting a state-ordered closure since January when former state health department director Theodore Wymyslo revoked the clinic’s license. The closure sparked both an appeal and now a second lawsuit as Haskell fights to stay in business.

The state department of health denied the clinic’s license renewal in January because the clinic could not get an emergency patient transfer agreement with any local hospitals. State-funded hospitals are not allowed to take in abortion clinic patients, and none of the private hospitals would issue agreements either.

Clinics can apply for a variance from the transfer agreement rule if they have a back-up system in place. The clinic has three physicians, who have hospital privileges and can admit patients to the hospital in an emergency. The clinic was granted a variance in 2010 and 2011, but the director of the state health department decided to non-renew and revoke the clinic’s license in 2012 because the clinic cannot get a transfer agreement with any hospital.

Bryan Kemper, with Stand True Pro Life Outreach and Priests for Life out of Troy, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Abortion is Homicide” was one of about 75 right-to-life protesters who lined Main Street in front of the courthouse. He said the judge’s decision was a godsend.

“I am extremely elated with the possibility that in five days this abortion mill will be closed down,” he said. “And innocent children in the Ohio area will be safe again.”

Valerie Haskell, the doctor’s wife and co-owner of the clinic, was in court on Friday. Her husband stayed away because of the crowd on the street, who has obvious harsh feelings about him, his attorney Dorothea Langsam said. Valerie Haskell had harsh words for the governor in an email to this newspaper after the hearing.

“Today Gov. Kasich moved another step closer to taking away a right that has been legal for nearly 50 years. He is methodically targeting each Ohio abortion provider for closure, one by one, hoping no one will notice. It is our medical center today, one in Cleveland or Columbus tomorrow,” she wrote.

Haskell, who also owns a clinic in Dayton, employs about a dozen people at the Sharonville location and Langsam said they have to decide whether they want to take the case to the First District Court of Appeals, where the closing could be postponed again.

She filed a lawsuit earlier this week asking Metz to grant a writ of mandamus that would force the health director to revisit the request for a variance in a “non arbitrary” manner.

“The clinic’s position is that because it has a procedure in place that does more than the regulatory requirements to ensure patient safety, that it should receive a variance,” she said.

Neither the attorney general, who argued the case, nor the state health department had any comments.