State grants variance request for Cincinnati abortion clinic

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Cincinnati abortion clinic can legally continue operating despite not having a required transfer agreement with a nearby hospital for emergencies, under a decision from the state’s health director on Friday.

The variance for Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio was granted in part because it named four physicians to provide backup care in lieu of the written transfer agreement, Department of Health Director Richard Hodges told the facility’s attorney in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

The variance expires on May 31, 2017, when the facility’s license expires.

Jerry Lawson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, said Friday night he’s pleased the variance was granted. But, he said, “the requirement for a written transfer agreement or variance is entirely unnecessary and is just another strategy on the part of the state to place unconstitutional barriers to a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion.”

Ohio requires surgical facilities in a certain category to have agreements with nearby hospitals to take patients in an emergency. It also requires that participating hospitals be within 30 miles of the clinic and blocks public hospitals from taking part.

The director had granted a variance request for Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio in November that was set to expire Tuesday.

Abortion clinics such as Women’s Medical Center of Dayton have been grappling with meeting the emergency requirements laid out in a 2013 state law that has contributed to clinic closings around the state.

Hodges twice last year denied the Dayton facility’s variance request. The first request identified two backup doctors for such cases; the amended request identified three. A federal judge has ruled that the clinic can continue to operate while it fights to obtain its license.

In April, an attorney for Women’s Med told a state hearing officer that the clinic’s plan for transferring patients when emergencies occur is safe and complies with Ohio law.

Health Department spokeswoman Melanie Amato said Friday the hearing officer in that case had yet to make a recommendation to Hodges, who will make the final determination. The recommendation is expected in July, she said.

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