Ohio Judge Rules Late-Term Abortion Clinic Can Stay Open, Even If It Fails to Meet State Medical Standards

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(Photo: Reuters/Jim Young)Anti-abortion protestors take part in a demonstration marking the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision in front of the Supreme Court building (rear) in Washington, Jan. 24, 2011.

Despite an Ohio Department of Health ruling that shut down an abortion clinic two weeks ago, because it failed to meet the state's medical standards, a judge has ruled that the late-term abortion facility can stay open.

On Jan. 17, the state ordered Lebanon Road Surgery Center (better known as Women's Medical Center), to close because the abortion clinic did not have an agreement that enabled it to send patients to area hospitals "in the event of medical complications, emergency situations, or for other needs as they arise."

But last Friday, Common Pleas Court Judge Jerome Metz Jr. ruled that if the abortion clinic closed, it would pose a significant obstacle for potential patients.

"The suspension [of the closure order] will maintain the status quo until the merits of this appeal can be determined by the court," Metz said. "[I find] that based on all of the above considerations, an unusual hardship will result from the execution of the order pending determination of the appeal."

The Women's Medical Center is one of two clinics in Cincinnati, and the only one in the region within hundreds of miles that performs late-term abortions. The shutdown of the abortion facility would have forced patients wanting to have late-term abortions to seek out clinics in Cleveland, Atlanta and Chicago, argued Jennifer Branch, the clinic's lawyer.

Before the health department's directive, the clinic had been operating under a variance, which had authorized it to hire doctors who have privileges to practice at area hospitals.

Health Director Theodore Wymyslo denied the abortion clinic's request in January, arguing that "past failure to timely communicate and request approval for changes to the previously approved variance worried [him] ... that conditions at the facility, while operating under the variance, could not be adequately monitored to ensure patient safety."

Branch said Women's Medical Center had operated without an agreement for more than a decade by using the variance. She also said the clinic had not faced problems taking patients to the hospital, because federal law stipulates that hospitals must admit anyone who has a medical emergency and provide treatment until they are stable.

Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis told World Magazine that the judge's decision put the lives of women and their unborn children on the line.

"The judge's decision shocked the conscience of all Ohioans as the judge disregarded the health and safety of women and unborn babies in the effort to put profits first and allow this operation to maintain its business. There is an abortion clinic in Hamilton County that is operating illegally and unsafely, and the judge just turned a blind eye."

According to National Right to Life, Lebanon Road Surgery Center is owned by late-term abortionist, Martin Haskell, who has performed abortions for more than 30 years. The pro-life organization's website asserts that Haskell is "notorious for his advocacy of partial-birth abortion and is credited for popularizing the now banned and illegal procedure."

The longer the case stays in court, the longer Women's Medical Center will stay open, said Branch. The appeals process is expected to last for a year.

Metz's decision will not force the clinic to implement a transfer agreement.