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Keeping an Eye on the “Incremental” Abortion Restrictions in Ohio

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December 18, 2013

I set out to write this piece about the impact that Governor Kasich’s budget bill has had in Ohio since it was signed into law six months ago. I thought the budget bill, or House Bill 59, was the worst blow to Ohio reproductive rights. What I didn’t know was that while House Bill 59 was a pretty tough blow, it was just one of many tough blows to the state’s fragmented reproductive rights protections. Turns out reproductive rights in Ohio have been steadily chipped away by the state’s government officials for over twenty years. Unless you have been part of the small group of people on the ground fighting back, you may not have known. And it’s all because of the approach the state government officials have taken. Instead of one sweeping piece of legislation that would rile up a whole lot of people, anti-choice officials have been passing small bits of legislation that have riled up people, little by little. In Ohio, restrictions on abortion and reproductive rights have happened little by little—and by summer 2013, little by little had become a lot.

Nancy Pitts, Director of Development and Communications at Preterm, Ohio’s largest abortion clinic has watched these developments closely.

“The New York Times did a story on abortion access in Ohio and described the situation in Ohio as an ‘incremental approach’ to restricting abortion access and I think that’s a fair description,” she said. “It’s not like Texas where one law goes into effect, and on one day a third of the clinics in the state shut down. It’s not that dramatic so it doesn’t always get the headlines. But I think the effects for women in the state are just as dramatic.”

It’s not just that Ohio has taken an incremental approach to reducing abortion access, but the state has also been on the forefront of passing so many laws that other states are now just getting around to. The idea of regulating abortion clinics as ambulatory surgical facilities is something Ohio has had to live with since the nineties. And as I further learned from Jaime Miracle, Policy Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, we were also one of the first states with a parental consent law. And in terms of awful budget bills, the one passed in June 2013 was not even the worst. Governor Kasich’s previous budget funded abstinence only sex-ed programs, banned public hospitals from performing abortions except in the case of a rape or incest or to protect the life of the woman, and banned local government insurance plans from covering abortion care.

All these restrictions put an unfair burden on patients seeking care, but there is also the burden it puts on providers, which can sometimes force clinics to close. Such was the case in the closure of the Center for Women’s Health, located in Cleveland. According to Ms. Pitts, the provider and owner of this clinic found the regulatory environment to be too burdensome to continue to operate. Other times, clinic closures inform policy, like in Toledo.

The Center for Choice, a clinic in Toledo that closed over the summer, had a transfer agreement with University of Toledo Medical Center, a public hospital. UTMC bowed to public pressure to pull out of its transfer agreement with the abortion clinic, forcing it to close. This gave anti-choicers the idea to prohibit public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements. So this prohibition was inserted into the budget.  We haven’t really yet seen the full damage of the budget bill, but what we do know is that there will be more clinic closures. There are currently four clinics at risk of shutting down due to the new provisions in the bill.

I believe it’s important that going forward, those of us who were not aware know this, as it will inform our strategies on how we fight back. Going forward, it will be important for young people like myself who are interested in fighting back against the legislative assaults to know that in a national context, Ohio has been on the forefront of passing so many anti- choice bills that are just now being introduced in other states. As Ms. Miracle told me, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio is coordinating with clinic staff and doctors, trying to do whatever they can to keep everything going and keeping everybody up to date on the closures. She says it’s a “complicated process but they keep an eye on it.” We must keep our eyes on it too.

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