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Abortion clinics working away as lawsuits, ballot initiative move forward




Nearly 22 million women, girls and gender-nonconforming persons of reproductive age are now living in states where abortion has been banned or is in other ways inaccessible, a contingent of U.S. and global human rights groups noted in a letter to the U.N. (Photo by Jennifer Shutt, States Newsroom)

Abortion clinics in Ohio are still serving patients, and in some cases are as busy as ever, according to administrators.

Nevertheless, the clinics and abortion service centers are still recovering not only from the abortion ban that cut their services before it was tied up in court battles, but also from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re suffering from some of the same challenges that most health care facilities have, which is significant numbers of staff leaving,” said Dr. Adarsh Krishen, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio.

PPGO’s clinics expanded to telehealth to help with pandemic-era care, and Krishen said the facilities continue to provide care, along with patient navigators who help with everything from financial assessments to transportation and hotel services should the patient need to go to another state for care.

“The call center has been ringing off the hook,” Krishen said.

Patient navigators were pushed to their limits during the months after Roe v. Wade was overturned as those who had previous appointments or wanted care that was banned under the six-week state law implemented in the state sought other options.

But almost as quickly as the six-week ban was put in place, lawsuits snarled the law in court battles. The law is still paused as a state court decides on its future, and as the Ohio Supreme Court decides whether to allow the pause to stay in place.

“(The pause) has made the need to have navigation services much less,” Krishen said. “But it’s still not a very patient-friendly state.”

Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio’s surgical centers and family planning “continue to be very busy” as abortion is currently legal at 21 weeks. Well-woman care, screenings and six centers that provide gender-affirming care to adults are going strong, according to Krishen.

Abortion Fund-Ohio, a group that connects patients with abortion-related resources, has also been “busier than ever,” according to interim executive director Maggie Scotece.

“There is a lot of concern about what is legal and where it’s legal,” Scotece said of the questions AFO is fielding, among patient requests for services.

In terms of direct patient funding, AFO said it has already surpassed the funding it received in 2021, and is on track to beat its 2022 direct patient funding if funding rates continue.

Patients that have completed the intake process with AFO totaled 1,175 in 2022, and in 2023, the fund has already had 745 patient intakes.

“A lot of questions we’re getting are around the status of the law,” something that is taking up a lot of the fund’s legal access program’s time, according to Scotece.

That program has been trying to emphasize the fact that Ohio has had judicial bypass, a legal method whereby a judge can allow a minor to have an abortion without parental consent, for years. While some lawyers weren’t comfortable or aware of the program, the program has been an option for some time.

“Our courts recognize that there are some situations where it is not appropriate for a minor to gain parental consent due to things like abuse,” Scotece said.

The active legal method is separate from the ballot initiative, despite arguments by anti-abortion rights groups who falsely claim the measure would impact parental rights.

AFO has been part of the coalition collecting signatures and putting their support behind the ballot initiative, set to appear on voter ballots in November. Scotece said in talking to Ohioans as she collect signatures, she’s attempting to educate people on how abortion care is a part of otherwise accepted medical care, such as miscarriage treatment, which often involves procedures also used in abortion care.

“A big part of what we do is make sure that people realize how permeable abortion care is in our community,” Scotece said. “If you don’t think abortion care has happened to someone in your life, it’s probably because they haven’t talked to you about it.”

AFO has also been preparing for the nationwide court battles regarding medication abortion pill, mifepristone. The AFO and the ACLU released a statement condemning the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Texas suspending the FDA approval of the medication dating back to 2000.

“The implications of this decision go far beyond abortion and have the potential to deny people access to other critical, life-saving drugs,” said Jessie Hill, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Ohio, in the statement.

Mifepristone is typically used in a two-pill regimen with misoprostol. Using just misoprostol is possible, Scotece said, but could require more clinic visits, and more care for patients.

“The reality is there is a higher risk that there will be an incomplete abortion,” Scotece said. “The pregnancy still is no longer viable, but it could mean there would be additional health impacts on the person who is pregnant.”

As court battles and signature-collecting continue, but Scotece and Krishen feel confident Ohioans are supportive of abortion rights continuing in the state, and will show it – if they get the chance – at the polls.

“Most people value that abortion access should be available, that it shouldn’t be restricted,” Krishen said.

This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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