CREDIT: AP Photo/Mike Groll
Abortion clinics in Michigan are currently seeing an influx of patients from neighboring Ohio, thanks to harsh regulations that have made it more difficult for Ohio women to seek reproductive health care in their home state.
Last summer, Ohio lawmakers enacted several stringent laws that are intended to limit women’s abortion access, including particularly harsh restrictions on clinics that go further than similar laws in other states. The anti-choice groups in Ohio celebrated the passage of that legislation as a “historic” move to undermine reproductive rights. As a result, several clinics in the state have been forced to close — and now, increasing numbers of Ohio women are making the trip to Michigan to get the care they need.
Renee Chelian runs the Northland Family Center in Westland, Michigan. As clinics are closing in Toledo, Chelian’s clinic is now one of the closest options for women who live in Ohio’s fourth-largest city. In an interview with the Toledo Blade, Chelian explained that she’s now getting between 30 and 50 patients from Ohio every month. The uptick in patients first began in the fall, immediately after the new laws took effect, and hasn’t let up since.
“We added a physician and more patient days to accommodate the influx,” Chelian explained. “We are doing everything we can to never turn a woman away when she is feeling desperate.”
In addition to Ohio’s new restrictions on abortion clinics, the state has also enacted a ban on later abortions that cuts off reproductive care for women who discover serious fetal abnormalities. As the state laws in this area have tightened, most hospitals in Ohio have stopped offering abortion care altogether, even in cases where health issues arise. It’s too complicated and potentially risky to navigate the new requirements. So now, women are either forced to carry doomed pregnancies to term against their doctor’s wishes or travel to Michigan, where abortions are still available up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Chelian is worried about what might happen if the last abortion clinic left in Toledo, which is currently struggling to keep its doors open under the new law, is forced out of business. Not every woman can afford to make a trip across state lines, which requires them to pay for transportation and lodging in addition to the cost of the abortion procedure itself. Chelian told the Toledo Blade that some desperate women may end up resorting to illegal means to end a pregnancy — indeed, she’s already seeing some patients who seek medical attention after trying to buy illegal abortion-inducing drugs on the internet.
“I think if these laws continue to be passed, we are going to see women dying, harmed, or sick, and this is a crime. We have women tell us they have gone to these sites and they used this pill and nothing happened. They call anonymously and tell us this, because they know self-abortion is illegal so there is a danger in what they did,” Chelian noted.
Ohio certainly isn’t alone. Over-regulating abortion clinics has become a popular anti-choice strategy to indirectly undermine women’s ability to exercise their reproductive rights. A record number of clinics have been forced to close over the last three years, thanks to the proliferation of state legislation known as the “Targeted Regulated of Abortion Providers,” or TRAP laws. In addition to Ohio, a harsh new law in Texas has captured national media attention as it’s forced dozens of clinics out of business and left the state’s most vulnerable residents with no access to reproductive health care. TRAP laws are typically couched in the language of women’s health and safety — but in reality, abortion clinics are already highly regulated, and don’t need additional oversight. Instead, this legislation is simply creating a nation in which women’s abortion rights are largely dependent on their economic privilege.
Nonetheless, TRAP laws show no sign of stopping. Lawmakers in states like Louisiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina are currently advancing this type of legislation.