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Abortion clinic stops procedures, 9 facilities remain in Ohio

A local clinic that once provided 2,000 abortions to women every year will no longer perform the surgery after Friday, attorneys representing the facility announced during a press conference Wednesday.

The Lebanon Road Surgery Center in Sharonville had been fighting in court to avert a state-ordered closure since January, but the facility’s owners conceded that battle this week — citing litigation time and costs.

“The cost and the energy that is required to litigate is not considered worth it,” Dorothea Langsam, an attorney representing the clinic told reporters during a downtown Cincinnati news conference Wednesday. “The reason for this decision is to allow Women’s Med Center and it’s doctors to focus on medical care for it’s patients, not litigation.”

The center had until this week to file an appeal of a judge’s order for clinic owners to comply with the state-ordered closure and shut down by Friday.

Now, only two nearby options remain for the women in Greater Cincinnati, which boasts a population of 2 million people, who are seeking an abortion. The Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio still provides abortions and the Women’s Med Center in Kettering, which is owned by the same doctor as the Sharonville clinic, are the last remaining abortion facilities in southwest Ohio.

Both of those clinics have been waiting for more than a year to hear if Ohio Department of Health officials will approve a variance to their license application. That’s the same type of request the state denied for Lebanon Road Surgery Center.

The health department has successfully closed four abortion clinics now under the leadership of Gov. John Kasich, a pro-life Republican. That’s more closures under Kasich than any other governor in the last 14 years.

“Abortion access is now severely in danger for Cincinnati-area women with only one provider remaining,” said Valerie Haskell, the co-owner of the Lebanon Road Surgery Center and wife of the doctor, Martin Haskell. “This sole provider is also soon to be closed if Kasich has his way.”

The state had 14 abortion clinics at the beginning of 2013, but that number has dwindled to nine facilities that are performing the surgery. One Cleveland clinic has relocated and will need to re-apply for an outpatient surgery license with the state before performing abortions again.

Out of the remaining clinics still open in Ohio, one in Toledo is engaged in a court battle with state officials over their right to operate and the Cincinnati and Kettering clinics are waiting for word from the state on their fate.

At issue with many of the clinics and the health department is their lack of a patient transfer agreement with a local hospital. Outpatient surgery centers, including abortion clinics, are required to have a written transfer agreement, in the event the patient suffers a medical emergency during the surgery.

Clinics can apply for a variance to that rule if they have a back-up system in place. Since 2010, Lebanon Road Surgery Center had operated under that variance by having doctors on staff who had admitting privileges into hospitals. That variance was denied in 2012, and abortion clinic owners had appealed that decision at the administrative and legal level until Wednesday, when they announced abortion surgeries would be halted.

Pro-life advocates argue the clinic’s request for a variance skirts state laws.

“We’re elated that we’re going to have a facility that’s operating illegally shut down for good,” Mike Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, said.

The Kettering abortion clinic has also operated under a similar variance to state rule, but that agreement is now under re-examination by state health leaders. And, Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio had to end its longstanding transfer agreement with the University of Cincinnati Medical Center last year, when a new state law banned state-funded hospitals from forming such deals with abortion clinics. Many private hospitals, which have a religious affiliation, will not enter into agreements with abortion clinics.

“We knew right away, there was a plan to systematically close the clinics in Toledo, Dayton and Cincinnati,” Kellie Copeland, of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said of the state law change. “They all depended on transfer agreements with public hospitals or variances, which could now be refused for any reason.”

Officials at the Planned Parenthood in Cincinnati are bracing to see more patients who need an abortion, as a result of the changes to Lebanon Road Surgery Center, spokesman Rick Pender, said. He told this newspaper the clinic will hire more staff in anticipation of that increase.

“We’ve been preparing for an influx of patients,” Pender said. “We’ve had the sense that this was going to be the outcome of this particular case.”

He said the clinic currently has a wait time of one to two weeks for the procedure.

The Dayton area’s only abortion clinic will also likely see an influx of patients seeking abortions as a result of the closure.

Patients who still visit the Sharonville abortion clinic can consult with a doctor for an abortion and then be referred to the Kettering clinic for the actual procedure.

The Lebanon Road Surgery Center was the only clinic in Greater Cincinnati that offered late-term abortions. Doctors referred patients who have a fetal anomaly or a high-risk pregnancy to the center for such procedures, Langsam said. She said the Kettering clinic is now the only southwest Ohio clinic to offer a late-term abortions.

A spokeswoman for the health department only offered a written statement that said health officials are “committed to acting within its authority to uphold state laws and regulations designed to protect the health and safety of Ohio residents.”

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