Ohio women face new obstacles before abortion


Early last month, Ohio implemented new restrictions that forbid patient-transfer agreements between abortion clinics such as Akron Women’s Medical Group seen here, the Akron-Kent area’s abortion provider. “Since they haven’t succeeded in making abortion illegal, they want to make it as inconvenient and distasteful as possible,” said a medical employee at the Akron Women’s Medical Group who wasn’t authorized to speak to the media on the topic. Photo by Jenna Watson.

Rex Santus

She didn’t want to jeopardize her career. She was about to graduate college. She was just too young.

For this northeast Ohio woman in her early 20s, who asked not to be identified, pregnancy simply came at the wrong time. She and her boyfriend decided an abortion was the best option.

Her mother told her to come home to Alabama for the procedure. But she opted to have the abortion in Florida because her home state requires counseling beforehand.

The abortion in Florida was botched. She underwent surgery in Akron earlier this year to correct it, she said.

After the first procedure, she reconsidered, wanting to follow through with the pregnancy. But Akron doctors “said that because I did have the shot that my baby had a 98 percent chance of coming out mentally handicapped … limbs missing, not fully developing lungs.”

The Ohio woman’s experiences in two separate states — at a time of fluctuating abortion regulations — illustrate how much state borders can affect clinic practices.

“In Florida, I did have an ultrasound, and they asked me if I’d like to see it,” she said. “I did get a picture at five weeks. I gave it to my sister. I just didn’t want it.”

Ohio, though, used to be different.

“They don’t even ask you if you want it,” she said. “You don’t hear the heartbeat. They don’t have anything like that.”

Since then, Ohio has adopted controversial pre-abortion procedures — a so-called “incremental strategy” to curbing abortion rates without directly challenging Roe v. Wade. Provisions signed into law as part of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s budget bill require state abortion providers to offer women a chance to see an ultrasound, in addition to evidence of the fetus’ beating heart.

Ohio implemented the new restrictions early last month, which forbid patient-transfer agreements between abortion clinics and public-funded hospitals.

Controversy has followed. Critics argue that right-leaning politicians are trying to shame women who are already in difficult situations.

In mid-November, U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, and other Democratic politicians unveiled federal legislation that would overturn abortion “restrictions that are more burdensome than those restrictions imposed on medically comparable procedures” in Ohio and similar states.

“They are trying to just make it acceptable to do things that are demeaning women,” said a medical employee at the Akron Women’s Medical Group — a Kent-Akron area abortion provider — who wasn’t authorized to speak to the media on the topic. “Since they haven’t succeeded in making abortion illegal, they want to make it as inconvenient and distasteful as possible.”

But Michael Gonidakis, president of anti-abortion lobbying group Ohio Right to Life, called such arguments “nonsense.”

By Planned Parenthood’s “admission, 97 percent of all the abortions they do, they do an ultrasound for insurance reasons,” Gonidakis said. “They just have to provide the birth mother an opportunity to see or hear a beating heart.”

Although his organization’s ultimate goal is to do away with abortion, Gonidakis said the group has lobbied against far-reaching abortion limits. Ohio Right to Life group doesn’t support legislation that will almost certainly fail.

“Ohio Right to Life would love to end abortion, and we work hard every day to end it,” he said. “Unfortunately, we live in a country where nine men and women on the United States Supreme Court determine when a baby can be killed or not.”

In Ohio, some abortion providers have shut their doors, and more are facing impending closures. Kasich’s budget bill bars written transfer agreements between clinics and public hospitals. Surgical facilities typically have patient-transfer agreements in case something goes wrong during an abortion. Without such agreements, clinics are not lawfully operating.

Gonidakis said taxpayers “entirely fund” public hospitals, and there are “scores and scores and scores” of other options for transfer agreements.

“Believe it or not, there are pro-life taxpayers in Ohio, and they don’t want their tax dollars to pay for abortion,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed a lawsuit in October against the state because the provisions “were snuck into the budget bill” and “don’t belong there,” said Jessie Hill, a professor in the Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland and volunteer attorney representing ACLU Ohio for the case.

“They’re already causing clinics to close,” Williams said, adding that all provisions like these are “cruel and unnecessary.”

The consequences could be immense, she said. Setting up roadblocks to abortion doesn’t solve anything. Restrictions only encourage women to seek less safe procedures.

“It’s just making them feel worse about their decision,” she said.

The northeast Ohio woman, recounting her abortion, agreed.

When a Florida practitioner offered her the option to see an ultrasound, she said she would have felt “evil” and “cold” if she’d refused.

“It was the shadiest place you’ve ever been,” she said of the Florida clinic. “Protesters outside — the whole thing, like the movie ‘Juno.’ ”

The procedure was nonsurgical — an arm injection — and doctors quickly sent her on her way.

But there was one big problem: She was still pregnant.

“I thought it took,” she said. “Then I went to a clinic up here in Akron … and I took a urinary sample, and they’re like, ‘You’re still pregnant.’ ”

She said employees at the Akron Women’s Medical Group were understanding of her situation. Ohio moving in this direction is not good news, she said, but she doesn’t think this will have a significant effect on women’s decisions.

“I get why they’re doing it — because they think it’ll change women’s minds,” she said, but “as a woman, you know.”

“I feel like the government shouldn’t even put their noses in it. It’s legal, and it’s not something that they should try to interfere with. Whether they like it or not, it’s going to happen.”

Contact Rex Santus at [email protected].