Red-taped

Where have all the clinics gone?

By Jeremy Wiedle

Photo:  Anti-abortion protesters gather outside the Women’s Med abortion clinic in Kettering; photo: Jeremy Wiedle

 

Terms to Know

 

Stroop Road in the Dayton, Ohio suburb of Kettering is home to subtle, yet timely irony. Large, narrow-windowed office buildings sit on each end of the busy road. Signs that read, “Women’s Med” and “Miami Valley Women’s Center” hang outside, revealing little about the business of either. Arguably, both were established to support and assist pregnant women in crises. This is where their similarities end.

Women’s Med, at 1401 E. Stroop, is an abortion clinic. The Women’s Center on Stroop’s west end, however, is a nonprofit, Christian-based pregnancy resource center.

Surveillance cameras litter the outside walls of The Women’s Med building. A sign warning trespassers stands prominent in the front flowerbed. Over 200 anti-abortion protestors rallied outside the building last July. A month earlier, the Supreme Court had struck down a Massachusetts law instituting a 35-foot “buffer zone” during protests.

Late last month, over 50 people from a variety of local churches and organizations gathered outside. 40 Days for Life, an anti-abortion, Christian non-profit based in Texas, organized the demonstration. Calling the gathering a prayer service, rather than a protest, demonstrators argued for the closure of the abortion clinic. Blue balloons released into the air concluded the Palm-Sunday event. Each was said to be in remembrance of past abortions performed in Kettering.

A Gallup poll from last May found abortion the most contentious moral issue in the United States. Forty-two percent of Americans expressed acceptance. Once at a high of 56 percent in 1996, the percentage of “pro-choice” Americans now closely rivals that of the oppositional “pro-life” group. Gallup’s latest numbers put them at 47 to 46 percent, respectively. At this ratio, abortion is neither condemned nor accepted by a majority – polarizing this highly debated topic.

Nowhere is polarization more apparent than politically torn Ohio. Over the last year the Buckeye State has become an epicenter in the debate over abortion legality.

At the beginning of 2013 there were 14 abortion clinics in Ohio. Now, there are eight. This is the result of tighter government regulation penned mostly by state republicans. In November, the state’s southwestern Planned Parenthood affiliate filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Health. It claimed the department was unlawfully endangering the existence of its Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Cincinnati.

In 2013, the Ohio legislature updated a law requiring all abortion clinics in the state to form transfer agreements with local, private hospitals. Planned Parenthood’s Cincinnati location lacks such an agreement. The health department granted the clinic a variance a week after the lawsuit’s filing, allowing abortions to continue. The variance does not change the current state law. Nor does it guarantee the clinic’s safety in future state compliance tests. Should the center close, Cincinnati will become the largest metropolitan city in the nation without access to an abortion clinic.

This lingering distinction was recently surpassed by another late last month when Ohio’s House of Representatives passed a bill outlawing abortion after the fetal heartbeat begins – the 6-week mark in a typical pregnancy. Similar attempts of a “heartbeat law” in Ohio and in other states have all failed. House Bill 69 is a long way from becoming law, and faces conservative hurdles – the main one being Ohio Governor John Kasich, who expressed reservation on such a law.

Pro-life is born

Dr. Martin Haskell operates Women’s Med on the other end of Stroop Road. He explains the roots of the anti-abortion movement and the role Southwestern Ohio plays in its history.

“The dichotomy [between religious groups and abortion rights] exists because they want it to,” he says. “I don’t think the ending a life argument came up until the early 1990s. That’s an invention of the 21st century.”

He adds, “Prior to that, the people who started the anti-abortion movement, particularly the Willkes here in Cincinnati… Before Roe v. Wade they were anti-Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood was providing contraceptives to teenagers.”

Dr. Haskell is referring to the late John C. Willke, a leading figure in the Pro-Life movement. He was the president of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) for over seven years. He founded the Cincinnati based anti-abortion nonprofit, Life Issues Institute, after leaving the NRLC in 1991. Online, their mission statement declares Cincinnati “the birthplace of the modern-day pro-life movement.”

The beginning of the modern-day pro-life movement is commonly associated with the 1973 passing of Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Court decision that led to larger public acceptance of abortion. But its roots can be traced back to 1967 with the formation of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Founded by the Catholic Church, it was composed of high-ranking American Catholics, eventually overseeing the creation of the National Right to Life Committee in 1968.

The Catholic Church officially recognized the NRLC in 1968 under Pope Paul VI. The church maintained direct oversight up until the Roe decision.

“You have this, in my view, this real confusion of belief,” Haskell says of the movement, “of what’s underneath it and what’s driving it. And it’s morphed into this ‘ending a life’ but the real reality when it started was really all about controlling sex. As a result I think even they have forgotten where they’re coming from and in my view I don’t think they’re very intellectually honest.”

What is a crisis center?

The Miami Valley Women’s Center has a noticeably different atmosphere than its east-end counterpart. Unlike Women’s Med, a sign next to the road mentions at least one of the center’s services: free pregnancy testing. Below the words, a stick figured woman dances in a purple dress. Workers drive in and out of the main entrance wearing white scrubs.

Miami Valley Women’s Center operates as a nonprofit through private donations, and like similar crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), offers material assistance and parenting courses to expecting parents.

“The Miami Valley Women’s Center is an organization that values life, supports families and demonstrates Christ’s love,” Executive Director Tiffany Seifman says. “This mission is accomplished by serving the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of women and families who are in crisis because of an unplanned pregnancy.”

Outside of social services, under the state license of a medical director the center provides pregnancy testing and a limited ultrasound. Essentially, their free services are crafted to act as an alternative to abortion clinic or hospital expenses, as highlighted on the center’s website.

Seifman acknowledges Miami Valley Women’s Center does have its medical limitations, saying, “Beyond the verification of pregnancy, we encourage clients to schedule an appointment with their doctor and [we] provide referrals if they do not already have a physician.”

Students for Life of America, an anti-abortion youth organization, defines a CPC as, “a nonprofit community center or clinic that primarily serves pregnant women and mothers of infants,” adding that a CPC is, “not an abortion provider, and does not charge for any of its services.” The group discredits notions of “fake clinics,” arguing that some CPC’s known as Pregnancy Help Medical Clinics, provide additional healthcare beyond pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. Additional services – prenatal exams and STD testing – are cited as proof of medical legitimacy.

Womenscenter.org is Miami Valley Women’s Center’s client website. It is the center’s primary resource for pregnant women searching for local help online. Donors interested in supporting the Miami Valley Women’s Center have a separate website, miamivalleywomenscenter.org, where the organization explains its Christian foundation.

Recognition of God, or the Christian foundation on which the center operates, does not appear on the client website.

But according to Students for Life of America, not all CPCs are religiously based. “People who make this claim are usually implying something further: religious discrimination. This is patently false. No CPC will refuse a client on the basis of her religion.”

Allegations of misbranding extend beyond the center’s scrub-uniformed workers, clinical definitions or Christian foundations. Rather, abortion rights activists argue CPCs convince women abortions are commonly dangerous or life traumatizing.

The Miami Valley Women’s Center isn’t alone; others around the nation have faced similar accusations of deception. People For the American Way, a liberal advocacy group based in Washington, lists similar attempts by other crisis centers as “one of the five fastest growing threats to women’s healthcare access in the United States.”

Dr. Haskell and “partial birth abortions”

Women’s Med’s Kettering clinic on Stroop is one of three owned by Dr. Haskell. A controversial figure in abortion’s national debate, he operates an Indiana clinic and another in Cincinnati.

Dr. Haskell is known for his 1992 presentation of intact dilation and extraction, known by the National Abortion Federation as IDX or D&X. Anti-abortion advocates commonly call the procedure “partial-birth abortion” and have sought to outlaw its practice since the mid-90s.

In 2003, George W. Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act making it illegal to perform the procedure on a “living human fetus.” A 2007 Supreme Court decision upheld the law. It determined intact D&X was legal so long as the fetus is first induced with a lethal injection.

Dr. Haskell performs abortions at his Kettering clinic. The Women’s Med Center’s butterfly-adorned website, womensmed.com, explains the surgery is performed only at the Dayton location and on fetuses between 14 and 22 weeks. Ohio’s viability law is included at the bottom of the legal page. It explains to clients Ohio’s ban on the operation after a fetus has become viable – able to survive outside the womb. The paragraph on the legal page ends, “We cannot commit to perform an abortion past 19 weeks gestation until this testing is performed and the physician determines that the fetus is not viable. There are no exceptions.”

What are a woman’s options?

Since September, Dr. Haskell’s Dayton clinic has become a resource for Cincinnati women. The transfer agreement law endangering Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Campbell Center in Cincinnati is the same law responsible for the closure of Dr. Haskell’s Sharonville, Ohio location. He does not have transfer agreements at either of his Ohio clinics. If not for the variance from the state health department, his Kettering office would be closed.

Two years ago, the already in-place transfer agreement law was updated to include a ban on public hospitals from entering into the agreement.

“Our transfer agreement laws prohibiting public entities from entering into those transfer agreements really just has to do with protecting taxpayer dollars from funding – or in some way allowing for abortion,” Stephanie Ranade-Krider, executive director of Ohio Right to Life explains.

Krider says restrictions were put in place by the state to protect women.

“Our argument is really just that we need to ensure women are going to be safe when they go to these places, so that’s what we think the laws passed in the most recent years do,” she says.

Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit supporting abortion access, reported these standards are unnecessary. A patient in any type of emergency is guaranteed ambulatory assistance, regardless of location.

Emergency calls from Dr. Haskell’s Kettering clinic are answered without a transfer agreement. Recordings are regularly featured on anti-abortion blogs. Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion nonprofit, reported “double trouble” in December after two emergency calls from the clinic were placed in the same day.

Krider says Ohio Right to Life approves of abortion only in cases where the mother’s life is jeopardized.

“For the most part hospitals will perform those types of abortions,” she says. “If it’s really a life-threatening, emergency circumstance. You can go to any hospital and, if they won’t perform it, say it’s a Catholic hospital, if they can’t perform the abortion then they would transfer you to a facility where you could have that done,” Krider says.

But if private hospitals will not agree to perform the operation, and public hospitals are “banned” from transporting abortion patients – what options are left?

In a 2013 article exploring the “uniqueness” of Ohio’s abortion laws, the Washington Post quoted Guttmacher Analyst Elizabeth Nash: “Ohio is the testing ground for abortion restriction,” she says.

This reporter also contacted The Ohio Department of Health. A series of questions regarding the state’s abortion restrictions went unanswered.

“We believe that the laws and regulations are clear, and further explanation is not necessary,” Public Information Officer Melanie Amato responded.

 

Reach DCP Freelancer Jeremy Wiedle at JeremyWiedle@DaytonCityPaper.com and watch his videos for Dayton City Paper on our Vimeo page at vimeo.com/DaytonCityPaper. Find Jeremy on his website at jwiedle.com.

Terms to Know


Moral questions central to abortion regulation make its debate multi-faceted. A Gallup poll from January 2002 reported, “If Roe v. Wade is presented only as legalizing abortion in the first three months, support for the decision is much higher than if it is characterized as making abortion legal throughout pregnancy or for any reason.”

Words play a remarkable role in any search for belief or opinion. The Associated Press advises using the terms “anti-abortion” instead of “pro-life” and “abortion rights” instead of “pro-choice.” Not all media outlets adhere to the AP’s advice. The glossary below contains abortion terms and phrases. Their interchangeable nature and framing in media often leads to confusion.

Roe v. Wade: A 1973 Supreme Court decision finding then-current anti-abortion state laws unconstitutional. It is regarded as a victory for abortion rights as well as responsible for ushering in the modern anti-abortion movement.

Pro-Life: A term used to describe the anti-abortion movement. Its first reported use was by the Catholic Church shortly after the Roe decision in 1973. Now it serves as the core argument of anti-abortion protests.

Pro-Choice: A term relating to the core argument of abortion rights’ activists. This phrase, along with its Pro-Life counterpart, is an example of political framing. Both terms are crafted to make their argument sound appealing while simultaneously discrediting their opposition.

Partial-Birth Abortion: A controversial, non-medical term used by the anti-abortion community to describe the Dilation and Extraction method of abortion. Coined by Republican U.S. Representative Charles T. Canady and National Right to Life Committee lobbyists during the crafting of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 1995.

Dilation & Evacuation (D&E): A medical term describing an abortion in which the fetus is dismembered in the womb and extracted through the birth canal. This surgery is responsible for the graphic photos of aborted fetuses used at anti-abortion protests.

Intact Dilation & Extraction (D&X): A medical term describing the “intact” removal of a fetus from the birth canal. President George W. Bush’s signing of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban in 2003 made this surgery illegal if a fetus dies midway through the surgery. As a result, clinics like Dr. Haskell’s now give lethal injections to a fetus before performing the operation.

Late-Term Abortion: There is no clear definition of what constitutes a late term pregnancy and laws vary by state. Arguments place the time between 20 to 26 weeks. In Ohio, consideration begins before the 20-week mark. State law requires a fetal viability test at this time, however, no state law outlining the test exists.

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Jeremy Wiedle

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