Nearly all of the abortion clinics in Ohio are operating with expired licenses because the state health department hasn’t approved or denied their annual applications.
In almost all of these cases, the Ohio Department of Health has inspected the surgical abortion facility but never issued a report to notify the clinic if the annual license is valid. Some clinics have been waiting for months to hear if the state will renew or deny their licenses, while others have been waiting for more than a year.
The situation is unique to eight out of the nine remaining abortion clinics in Ohio, an investigation by this newspaper found.
Ohio health department officials are supposed to issue a license and inspect every outpatient surgery facility in the state annually. Outpatient facilities offer plastic, eye or endoscopy surgeries as well as abortions, among other types of medical care.
This newspaper reviewed records of the 135 outpatient surgery clinics in six of Ohio’s largest counties, which are all home to an abortion clinic. The health department has issued license renewals for all of those clinics, except for eight — all of them abortion clinics. Only one abortion clinic, a Columbus facility, has been issued a timely renewal in the last year; that clinic’s license will expire at the end of this month.
Health department officials wouldn’t answer questions about why the abortion clinics’ licenses haven’t been renewed.
“We believe that the laws and regulations are clear and further explanation is not necessary,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.
In each of the cases the clinics are still operating because the health department hasn’t ordered them to close. Some owners, however, say they’re caught in limbo because they don’t know if state officials plan to affirm or deny their license renewal.
Women’s Med Center in Dayton — which is owned by the same doctor who earlier this week announced he would be stopping surgical abortions at his Sharonville clinic and end his legal fight with the health department — still hasn’t received notice on its license since it last expired in August 2012, according to the health department’s website. In part, that’s because the clinic has been waiting for more than a year for state officials to response to the clinic’s request for a variance to the state law. Clinic owners are asking the state to allow the facility to operate with doctors who have admitting privileges to local hospitals, instead of the state law that requires abortion clinics to have transfer agreements with a private hospital.
“We suspect the state’s practice of sending inspectors but not issuing inspection reports to abortion providers allows the state to attempt to find wrongdoing without creating a positive record if an abortion provider passes,” said Valerie Haskell, the co-owner of the clinic and wife of the doctor, Martin Haskell.
Haskell said he believes the last time the clinic was inspected by state health officials was in April of 2013, when the clinic was written up for not having a patient transfer agreement.
Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, Cincinnati’s last remaining abortion clinic, hasn’t heard back from an April 2013 inspection and has been waiting since September for the state to rule on a similar variance request to continue operations.
Abortion advocates say the expired licenses are evidence of state officials treating abortion clinics different from other ambulatory surgical facilities. Abortion providers have paid the $1,750 inspection and license renewal fee but never heard back from the state on the state of the clinic’s renewal, Jaime Miracle, the policy director at NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said.
“We don’t have a problem with these centers having to follow licensing rules,” Miracle said. “The problem is when the department of health doesn’t follow their own rules and cherry picks which facilities they’re going to grant their licenses to.”
This newspaper was the first to report that clinics have been inspected and cited more frequently since Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011. The state has also shed five surgical abortion facilities since the beginning of 2013.
That’s because the health department has followed laws more stringently in recent years, Mike Gonidakis, the president of the pro-life group Ohio Right to Life, said. In past years, clinics hadn’t been inspected consistently but Gonidakis has praised the health department’s more frequent annual inspections of the clinics in recent years.
He was, however, surprised to hear Friday the abortion clinics operating in Ohio’s largest counties are the only ones to go without updates on their licensing status.
“I would hope that all ambulatory surgical facilities are being treated exactly the same,” Gonidakis said.