Ohio Right to Life dropped a bombshell Tuesday just as the Ohio Supreme Court began hearing arguments in a case that could mean the closure of Toledo’s last abortion clinic.
Abortion opponents told the Columbus Dispatch the Capital Care Network case was “the most significant abortion case” in Ohio’s history.
Pro-choice advocates said a ruling against Capital Care could result in Toledo becoming the first large city in the state where women would not have access to abortion services.
Attorney Jennifer Branch warned in a brief filed on behalf of the clinic that if the Supreme Court rules against Capital Care women would be forced to travel 240 miles, round trip to Cleveland, or 300 miles to and from Columbus to get abortions.
“These challenges are exacerbated by Ohio’s mandatory delay law for abortion, which forces patients to make the round trip — and miss work, lose wages, and pay for transportation and child care — at least twice,” Branch’s brief added.
And that is only the first of two cases the state’s highest court will hear that are considered to be pivotal by Ohio pro-choice and pro-life groups.
The second case, which will be heard by the state Supreme Court on Sept. 26, is a lawsuit that challenged a state law that required abortion clinics to have transfer agreements with local hospitals for emergencies or medical complications.
The revelation Washington Examiner columnist Nicole Russell referred to as a “smoking gun” didn’t make it into any of the court filings for the first case.
But, on the same day that state Supreme Court justices heard arguments in the Capital Care Network case, Ohio Right to Life announced that the Ohio Department of Health issued a significant civil fine of $40,000 against the last remaining abortion clinic in Toledo.
The state health department investigation was the result of pro-life activists reporting Capital Care Network didn’t follow their own medical emergencies procedure after a doctor believed he might have perforated a woman’s bowel during an abortion.
The pro-lifers recorded video of clinic workers putting the woman into an employee’s car for a ride to a local hospital rather than calling 911.
“Will a woman have to die before this facility is shut down for good?” said Michael Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. “Capital Care Network proves yet again that it cares more about capital than care.”
A Supreme Court ruling against Capital Network on the case heard Tuesday could close the clinic’s doors. The Ohio Department of Health ordered the clinic closed in 2014 because it failed to work out a transfer agreement, as required by state law, with a nearby hospital to handle patient emergencies.
“You’re destroying healthcare for women, and as a woman I am offended,” Sen. Charleta Tavares (D) said during floor debate over the patient-transfer law in 2013.
Capital Network had an agreement with the University of Toledo Medical Center.
But because abortion clinics can’t do patient transfer agreements with public facilities because of the statute that is the subject of the court’s Sept. 26 hearing, the closest hospital Capital Network could do a deal with was the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, Mich., 52 miles away.
Jennifer Branch contended that Capital Care’s ability to craft a new patient-transfer agreement with a private hospital was impeded by more than Ohio law. She said political pressure on local doctors and hospitals could also have been a factor.
“None of them would step forward to enter into a contract with this provider,” Branch said. “Because of that, they are being denied their license to provide abortions to the women in Northwest Ohio.”
Two appeals court judges ruled against the state health department, and the case wound up before the state Supreme Court. They found the regulation to be unconstitutional because it placed an “undue burden” on Capital Network.
Michael Gonidakis called the Capital Network-University of Michigan agreement “preposterous.”
“Our desire is to ban abortions,” Gonidakis admitted, “but if (abortion clinics) are allowed to operate, they should operate under the same standards as everyone else.”
“Ohio took this step because most Ohioans, like most Americans, don’t want to see their tax dollars go to supporting abortion,” Steve Aden, chief legal officer and general counsel for Americans United for Life, told the Washington Examiner.
“Generally, if abortion physicians are unsuccessful in getting a transfer agreement with a private hospital, it’s because their reputation is known in that community,” he added.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, contended Gonidakis, Aden, and other pro-life advocates only wanted to make it as difficult as possible for a woman to get an abortion.
“This is dressed up as patient protection, but the goal is to prevent women access to abortion care and ultimately outlaw abortion,” Copeland said.
The Ohio Supreme Court is not expected to issue a ruling in the Capital Network case until late September, at the earliest.
If the court’s decision goes against the Toledo clinic, pro-choice advocates like Copeland will argue that the court was stacked against them since all of the justices are Republicans and one, Justice Sharon Kennedy, recently spoke at a Toledo Right to Life breakfast meeting.
“So obviously, we think that there’s a bias on the court,” Copeland said.
No matter what the justices decide, Gonidakis told WOSU the Ohio Legislature has been responding to the will of the voters when it approved laws that could hamstring abortion clinics.
“What our legislature has done is a clear example of elections have consequences,” Gonidakis said. “If you elect a pro-life legislature and a pro-life governor, you’re going to get pro-life laws.”