An abortion clinic in Toledo, Ohio is claiming that an agreement made with the University of Michigan Health System puts the clinic in compliance with state law requiring Ohio abortion providers to have a transfer agreement with a local hospital.
At a Department of Health hearing last week, Toledo’s Capital Care abortion clinic insisted that it meets the state requirement to have an emergency care arrangement with a local hospital – despite the fact that the hospital is more than 50 miles away from the clinic. A hospital spokesperson stated that this agreement is reasonable. “We are a regional hospital, and we do consider Toledo to be part of our service area,” said Denise Gray-Felder.
The Toledo clinic is one of several clinics that have run into difficulty since last summer when the state budget included a provision requiring that abortion clinics have a transfer agreement with a local hospital. It is now the last remaining abortion provider in the city.
The Capital Care clinic has a one-year transfer agreement in place with the University of Toledo Medical Center but the hospital has opted not to renew the agreement as of July 31. So far no private hospital in the area has agreed to take its place.
Proponents of the transfer requirement have called into question the legitimacy of this agreement between Capital Care and the University of Michigan hospital as well as the Capital Care clinic’s understanding of the word “local.”
Kayla Smith of Ohio Right to Life argued that, on a good day, it would take at least 53 minutes to transfer a patient from Toledo to Ann Arbor.
Dr. Ted Wymyslo, the former state health director, rejected the deal when it was initially struck between University of Michigan Medical Center and the Capital Care clinic, questioning the common sense of sending a patient suffering complications such a distance. He testified, “My first concern was even before I saw this agreement, and that was the understanding that a hospital that was about 53 miles away from the emergency [sic] ambulatory surgical facility was going to be providing services.” He added, “In addition, it was out of state. … I was concerned because of distance mostly but also felt that this did not constitute what I would consider a local resource.”
Over the past few years more efforts have been made in the states to ensure the safety of women seeking abortions. However, only four states (North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah) require clinics to have hospital admitting privileges at a local hospital.
Though the Ohio law does not specifically define “local,” it’s clear that a purpose of the law is to protect women when an abortion facility cannot handle emergency situations that might occur. A hospital located too far from the abortion facility will not adequately serve that purpose. The National Abortion Federation itself recommends that women seeking abortion find a doctor who “in the case of an emergency” can “admit patients to a nearby hospital (no more than 20 minutes away).”
When medical experts, prolife advocates, commonsense, and even the National Abortion Federation all call for local hospitals to be within easy access of abortion patients in case of complications, it seems clear that this recommendation should be taken seriously.
The Ohio Department of Health is expected to make a decision regarding Capital Care’s license revocation in June.
Nora Sullivan is a Research Assistant at Charlotte Lozier Institute.