Ohio abortion clinics continue to help out-of-state patients as bans are put in place

Meanwhile, Ohio’s AG signs on to letter demanding access to patient files

By: - July 24, 2023 4:50 am

COLUMBUS, OH — MAY 14: Supporters of reproductive rights attempt to cover the posters of counter protesters at a rally to support abortion rights less than two weeks after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion showed a likely reversal of Roe v. Wade, May 14, 2022, at the Ohio Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)

As groups await legal battles on abortion, as well as hope for a November ballot initiative to include reproduction rights in the Ohio Constitution, abortion clinics are also looking to help surrounding states where bans have taken hold.

Indiana has been the most recent state surrounding Ohio to see an abortion ban approved — set to start on August 1 — and with it struggles for Planned Parenthoods in the state to care for patients, even those seeking other reproductive services.

While Ohio awaits the state Supreme Court’s decision in a case regarding an indefinite pause to the six-week abortion ban in the state, and waits to see if the abortion amendment will go before voters in November, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio says they are carrying on with patient services as best they can.

“To anyone seeking care: abortion is legal in Ohio, and our health center doors are open,” PPGOH said in a statement after the Indiana ban was announced. “Abortion restrictions don’t stop people from needing or having an abortion.”

Danielle Firsich, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, said clinics have been open to patients in the tri-state area since the Dobbs decision overturned nationwide abortion rights.

“We are not unused to having people travel to the state of Ohio,” Firsich told the OCJ. “But it’s not an easy thing to have to travel to another state for abortion care, especially if you’re dealing with fetal viability (timelines) and the health of the mother.”

Ohio, like other states with Planned Parenthoods and other regional organizations within their borders, have health navigators to help patients get the care they need. PPGOH has reached out to and been contacted by those organizations within Indiana as well as Kentucky, which is facing its own abortion ban now that a court challenge has been dismissed.

“Ohio is a critical state right now in the battle for reproductive rights,” Firsich said, referring to the August 8 primary that will decide if it will be harder to amend the constitution, and the November ballot in which the abortion amendment is set to appear, should the more than 400,000 signatures needed (according to current law) be verified by the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office.

Abortion rights groups gathered more than 700,000 signatures all together in support of putting the ballot measure to a vote.

While the signatures are counted and the clinics continue their work welcoming out-of-state patients along with Ohio residents, the state’s Attorney General Dave Yost, has joined a group of fellow AG’s pushing back on a proposed federal rule to protect patient privacy when it comes to abortion cases.

The letter, sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by Yost and 18 other state AGs decries many Biden administration actions since the Dobbs decision.

But primarily, it asks for the withdrawal of a proposed federal rule that would modify HIPAA privacies “to strengthen reproductive health care privacy,” according an HHS document on the proposed rule.

The proposed rule would prohibit the use or disclosure of “protected health information” as part of “a criminal, civil or administrative investigation or proceeding against any person in connection with seeking, obtaining, providing or facilitating reproductive health care, where such health care is lawful under the circumstances in which it is provided,” the HHS stated.

“For example, if a resident of one state traveled to another state to receive reproductive health care, such as an abortion, that is lawful in the state where such health care was provided,” the HHS wrote in a fact sheet on the proposed rule.

The information also could not be used for the “identification of any person for the purpose of initiating such investigations or proceedings.”

The attorneys general say, however, that the rule comes from a “false narrative” pushed by the Biden administration that state are “seeking to treat pregnant women as criminals or punish medical personnel who provide lifesaving care.”

“HIPAA does not authorize HHS to make broad policy judgments overriding or interfering with state’s decisions to protect ‘prenatal life,’ ‘maternal health and safety,’ and ‘the integrity of the medical profession,'” the letter states, citing the Dobbs decision.

In the Indiana Supreme Courts decision putting the abortion ban in place, Justice Christopher Goff said in his dissent that medical providers could contest the ban based on the criminalization of the medical work, according to reporting by the Indiana Capital Chronicle.

Medical groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Academy of Medicine of Cleveland & Northern Ohio wrote to the Ohio Supreme Court, saying the six-week abortion ban would put medical providers at risk of “criminal, civil and disciplinary penalties for specific acts the General Assembly has deemed proscribed conduct, but is, in actuality, the practice of medicine.”

The attorneys general also said putting the proposed rule in place “defies the governing statute, would unlawfully interfere with states’ authority to enforce their laws and does not serve any legitimate need.”

“Relying as it does on a false view of state regulation of abortion, the proposed rule is a solution in search of a problem,” the letter stated.

As Firsich and other pro-abortion rights groups continue the fight to constitutionalize abortion care, they see the legislative and federal pushes to keep regulating abortion as the problem, a problem only fixed by voters.

“We’re doing everything we can to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution,” Firsich said. “This is the only manner in which we can check the legislature’s powers right now.”

Abortion is still legal until 22 weeks gestation in Ohio.



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.