What happens next: Kettering clinic closure won’t stop abortion referrals to other states



Although the Women’s Med Center in Kettering, the Dayton area’s only surgical abortion clinic, is closing, abortion and related services are still available.

“Planned Parenthood has 23 health centers across the state, and we have not closed any health centers,” said Iris Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio. Three of those provide surgical abortions, she said.

The Women’s Med Center is not affiliated with Planned Parenthood. The Cincinnati Surgical Center, operated by Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, remains open.

Women’s Med Center operates clinics in Kettering and in Indianapolis. They are both slated to close Sept. 15, when Indiana’s new abortion law goes into effect. That’s a “heartbeat law,” similar to one already in effect in Ohio, banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable – usually five or six weeks into pregnancy, before many women even know they’re pregnant.

It’s part of a wave of restrictions in the wake of the June overturn of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has forced the closure of many clinics.

The Kettering clinic, open for 35 years, previously provided several hundred abortions per month. But Ohio’s recent restrictions outlawed about 90% of those, according to a clinic representative. Now the facility mainly offers screening and pre-operative services. It has been referring abortion patients to the organization’s other clinic in Indianapolis, but that will end due to Indiana’s new law.

The Indianapolis facility saw its patients double, to about 500 per month, when Ohio’s “Heartbeat Bill” went into effect; and now its closure will likely send that surge on to Michigan and Illinois, according to the clinic representative.

Planned Parenthood works to “navigate” patients to where abortion remains legal, providing help to mitigate the emotional and financial strain, Harvey said. Now that Indiana is not an option the primary destinations are Pennsylvania and Illinois, but patients could be sent to New York or even California depending on their specific needs and gestational length, she said.

The group’s health centers plan to remain open, not just to provide early-term abortions at a few, but to offer all varieties of contraceptive care, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and gender-affirming care, Harvey said.

“We are a full-service reproductive healthcare provider,” she said.

State Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, issued a statement celebrating the closure of the Women’s Med Center and urging patients to go instead to the area’s “pregnancy resource centers.” Those centers, many religiously affiliated, do not provide any abortion services or referrals and often actively discourage patients from seeking abortions.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee and former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley denounced incumbent Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who signed the “Heartbeat Bill” and other restrictions targeting abortion clinics.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio, said in a news release that Whaley has worked with the group for years to defend abortion access.

“Mayor Whaley was the first to step up and defend Dayton patients and providers,” Copeland said. “Every Ohio voter needs to know that Nan Whaley is committed to continue defending them.”

On the horizon

Ohio legislators have passed several bills restricting abortion in the past few years, most notably the “Heartbeat Bill” in 2019, which banned abortion after about six weeks of gestation but was blocked by the courts until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe on June 24. Last year, the “Born Alive” bill, sponsored by state Sens. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott and Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, which penalizes medical personnel who don’t take extensive measures to keep alive an infant born after an attempted abortion, also passed.

Many further restrictions await legislators in November’s lame-duck session, but if they don’t pass by year’s end they would have to be refiled for consideration in the 135th General Assembly. Those bills include:

· Senate Bill 304, introduced in March by Steve Huffman, which would prohibit anyone but a “qualified physician” from providing abortifacient drugs and specifically ban public schools and colleges from providing them. It would also require in-person exams of the patient and create an “Abortion-Inducing Drug Certification Program” for doctors through the State Board of Pharmacy.

· An “abortion reversal” bill, House Bill 378, introduced a year ago by state Reps. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, and Sarah Fowler Arthur, R-Ashtabula. It would require health officials to give patients information on using large doses of progesterone soon after the use of mifepristone, an abortifacient drug, to counteract mifepristone’s effects. Opponents denounce this as medically dubious and based on inadequate study.

· House Bill 421, introduced a year ago by state Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, to require abortion patients to be given fetal ultrasound images and heartbeat sounds before using abortifacient drugs – the same requirement as before surgical abortion. Medical workers would also have to tell patients the unproven claim that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer and causes “psychological or emotional harm.”

· House Bill 480, sponsored by Powell and State Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp., which would allow private citizens to file lawsuits against anyone who perform or “aids or abets” an abortion, or has “taken action or made statements” indicating they plan to do so.

· House Bill 598, sponsored by state Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland; and its Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 123, sponsored by state Sens. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, and Sandra O’Brien, R-Ashtabula. Those bills would make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions, without exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health.

· The “Personhood Act,” filed by state Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, as HB 704, which would make abortion illegal from the moment of conception, except when the mother’s life is in danger.

In May, Democrats introduced Senate Joint Resolution 7, seeking to write a right to abortion into the Ohio Constitution. It has no chance of passage, but sponsors said they would use it as a springboard for a state constitutional referendum on abortion.

Even before the “Heartbeat Bill’s implementation, most abortions were illegal in Ohio past 22 weeks of gestation.

In July, Attorney General Dave Yost said the “Heartbeat Bill” has three exceptions: “one to prevent the death of the mother, the second, due to a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant mother, and the third in cases of an ectopic pregnancy.”

Adjacent states

Indiana: The law taking effect Sept. 15 has exceptions for cases of rape or incest – but only before 10 weeks of pregnancy – fatal fetal abnormalities or danger to the life or health of the mother.

Planned Parenthood, the owner of Women’s Med Center, another clinic operator and one doctor who performs abortions have filed a lawsuit against Indiana’s new abortion ban, arguing it violates the state constitution’s rights to privacy and equal privileges. The plaintiffs include operators of six of the state’s seven licensed abortion clinics. Women’s Med Center operated one clinic each in Ohio and Indiana.

Kentucky: Legislators in 2019 passed both a near-total “trigger ban,” anticipating the overturn of Roe; and a “heartbeat bill” similar to Ohio’s. Their implementation was briefly blocked this year but reinstated by an appellate court, forcing closure of the state’s only abortion clinic. Now abortion is illegal except to prevent the death of or permanent injury to the mother.

Michigan: An abortion ban on the books since 1931 remains blocked by the courts. An initiative to protect abortion via the state constitution may be on the state’s November ballot.

Pennsylvania: Abortion remains legal up to 24 weeks. There are bills in legislature to protect abortion, but also a possible constitutional amendment vote to ban it.

West Virginia: A 19th-century law banned abortions following Roe’s overturn, but courts have barred the state’s attorney general from enforcing it. An appeal may be heard this fall, but the state’s only abortion clinic is already closed. Legislators in a special summer session couldn’t agree on language for a new ban. Republican Gov. Jim Justice has dismissed the idea of a constitutional referendum on the subject.

Reporter Josh Sweigart contributed information to this story.

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