Planned Parenthood files suit against Ohio Department of Health

The Southwest Ohio Region of Planned Parenthood has filed suit in federal court this week, seeking to preserve its ability to continue to perform abortions in its Mt. Auburn facility, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. At issue is the center's lack of transfer agreement with a local hospital where it could send patients if dangerous situations arose, as required by Ohio law. The facility had such an agreement with The University of Cincinnati Medical Center, but legislation passed by Republicans in the Ohio legislature in 2013 made transfer agreements with public hospitals illegal, so UC Health withdrew their collaboration. Since most private local hospitals are religiously affiliated, Planned Parenthood has not been able to secure another transfer agreement, they state, leading the ODH to cite them for failure to comply with the law, and threaten to revoke their license.

The law does permit the Health Department to grant exceptions to this transfer agreement requirement if the provider obtains formal agreements with other doctors. Planned Parenthood asserts that it has done this and requested a variance, but the ODH has yet to respond to the request. A similar situation caused the Women's Med Center in Sharonville to close in September, after Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Jerome Metz ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction to overrule an order of the health department that revoked the center's license for failure to secure a transfer agreement. Women's Med had also requested an exception from the ODH, but the agency denied it.

Planned Parenthood is suing the Ohio Department of Health and UC Health, asking the court "to rule the law unconstitutional, reinstate the clinic's agreement with UC Health and order the health department not to revoke its license," according to the Enquirer. Planned Parenthood asserts that the ODH is violating the due process and equal protection rights of women by implementing such restrictive measures on access to abortion.

If Planned Parenthood's Cincinnati facility were to lose its license Cincinnati would be the largest metropolitan area in the country without an abortion clinic, the Enquirer reports, and women would have to travel outside the area to obtain abortion services. Dayton's Women's Med Center also lacks a transfer agreement and has been operating under a variance that ODH granted in 2008, but the department has not responded to requests to renew this in 2012, 2013 or 2014, Planned Parenthood alleges in their complaint. If this facility were to close as well, the nearest facilities would be as far away as Columbus, Indianapolis and Louisville. According to the complaint, since the majority of Planned Parenthood's patients are low-income, "the increased costs, travel, and delays will make it impossible for a significant number of women to obtain an abortion."

The 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey held that states may not place an undue burden on a women's right to obtain an abortion. Whether effectively forcing women to travel over 100 miles to obtain an abortion fails this test is something the court is likely to consider in this case.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black. While the defendants have not yet filed a written response, at a scheduling conference on November 12 the parties reached a verbal agreement that ODH will not seek to revoke Planned Parenthood's license until the court rules on the preliminary injunction filed by the plaintiff. Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region v. Hodges et al, 1:14-cv-00867.