Abortion Clinic Demands Judge Recuse Herself From Case Over Pro-Life Speech

Demonstrators hold signs outside of the Capital Care Network of Toledo abortion clinic in a photo posted to Facebook on October 9, 2016.
Demonstrators hold signs outside of the Capital Care Network of Toledo abortion clinic in a photo posted to Facebook on October 9, 2016. | (Photo: Facebook/Capital Care Network of Toledo)

An Ohio Supreme Court justice has refused an abortion clinic's demands that she recuse herself from a case that will determine whether or not the clinic has to shut down for not being in compliance with a state law, simply because she spoke at a pro-life event earlier this year.

"Having reviewed the request, I find it to be without merit and will continue to participate in the case," Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy said Monday in response to a request by the Capital Care Network that she remove herself from its pending case against the state of Ohio, according to the Toledo Blade.

The Capital Care Network of Toledo, the last remaining abortion clinic in the town with a population of about 275,000, was ordered by the state to close its doors because it does not have an agreement with a local hospital that will make it easy to transfer patients in the case of a botched abortion or another medical emergency as mandated by a state law.

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According to The Blade, Capital Care lost its emergency transfer agreement with the University of Toledo Medical Center in 2013. Although the abortion clinic found a hospital affiliated with the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor willing to enter into an agreement, the state maintained that since the hospital is over 50 miles away from the clinic, it does not count as a "local" hospital.

The clinic challenged the state's position in court and received victories in not only the Lucas County Common Pleas Court but also in the 6th District Court of Appeals. The state's appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court is scheduled to be heard on Sept. 12.

Last week, Capital Care's attorney, Jennifer Branch, submitted an official request for Kennedy to remove herself from the case and questioned her impartiality, pointing to her participation at the Toledo Right to Life's annual breakfast and legislative briefing in March of this year.

"The facts in the attached affidavit indicate that many individuals and groups in Ohio have reasonably questioned Justice Kennedy's impartiality regarding this case involving the license to operate a facility that provides abortions," Branch wrote in the request.

Branch argued that Kennedy's speech at the Greater Toledo Right to Life was advertised and that the event sold out. Additionally, Branch contended that both the Toledo Right to Life and the Foundation for Life have used Kennedy's participation in the event to raise money.

The Blade reports that Branch's official request came after two ethics complaints were filed by outside groups that accused Kennedy of having a conflict of interest in the case. However, the grievances were dismissed by an appointed panel.

Court rules give Kennedy the decision on whether she will remove herself from the case. 

Bret Adams, a retired attorney who filed one of the ethics complaints against Justice Kennedy earlier this year, asserted in an interview with The Blade that Kennedy's refusal means that she is not adhering to "the most basic tenet of the Code of Judicial responsibility."

"No lawyer or judge in this state can represent a client or rule on cases if there is an actual conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict of interest," Adams said. "There is an obvious conflict of interest as she has clearly shown a pro-life position with her speeches to pro-life organizations and acceptance of campaign contributions."

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