Cincinnati Poised To Become Largest Metropolitan Area Without Any Abortion Clinics

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Health officials in Ohio have taken the first step toward closing the last abortion clinic in Cincinnati, a move that threatens to make the Ohio city the largest metropolitan area in the country without a single abortion provider.

The Planned Parenthood surgical center in Cincinnati recently received a notice from the Ohio Department of Health warning it’s failing to comply with a harsh new state law that requires clinics to have a transfer agreement with a local hospital. But the clinic staff, who have been asking the health department for an exemption to this new requirement for more than a year, doubt they’ll ever be able to get a transfer agreement. Now, they’re worried about an impending showdown with state officials.

Clinics across the state are struggling to obtain transfer agreements with private hospitals — an unnecessary bureaucratic policy that doesn’t have anything to do with patient safety — because most of those institutions are religiously-affiliated and don’t want to partner with abortion clinics. The new requirements, which were attached to a budget law approved by Gov. John Kasich (R) in 2013, have already forced several other clinics to close.

The other abortion clinic that used to operate in Cincinnati, Women’s Med, battled with the health department for months before finally giving up at the end of August. It officially closed last month. “Abortion access is now severely endangered for Cincinnati area women with only one provider remaining,” Val Haskell, one of Women’s Med’s owners, said in a statement at the time. “This sole provider is also soon to be closed if Governor Kasich has his way.”

Haskell’s prediction is starting to come true. Although the notice from the health department is just the first step in what could be a protracted legal battle, which ensures the Planned Parenthood clinic won’t immediately have to close its doors, reproductive rights advocates in the state believe the health department is abusing its regulatory authority to target abortion providers one by one. And the last clinic in Cincinnati is probably next on its list.

“This is part of a national trend being seen in many states,” Rick Pender, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, told the Columbus Dispatch. Indeed, Ohio’s new law fits into the larger strategy known as the “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers,” or TRAP. Over the past several years, TRAP laws have swept the nation and put dozens of clinics out of business.

The consequences of TRAP are on full display in the South, where abortion access is hanging in the balance. In Texas, for instance, where harsh TRAP regulations have shuttered nearly all of the state’s clinics, low-income and rural areas are losing access to reproductive health services altogether. Large cities are the most likely to retain access to providers as abortion rights become more dependent on women’s zip code; Ohio, however, proves that the women living in metropolitan areas can’t necessarily count on that.

It’s a new reality that the anti-abortion groups in the state — who lauded the passage of the latest abortion restrictions as “historic” — are all too happy about. “With each passing month, we are seeing Ohio’s abortion industry crumble because of their own inability to comply with the law,” Stephanie Ranade Krider, the executive director of Ohio Right to Life, said in a statement this week. And that’s exactly how the law was designed.