How conservatives shut down my local abortion clinic

A story from Ohio


Since last Monday’s SCOTUS ruling, striking down Texas’s infamous abortion restrictions, similar laws are beginning to fall like dominoes. Four other state victories were near-instantaneous.

Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Mississippi, that had already been denied by a court from requiring physicians to have admitting privileges at hospitals, were met with denied appeals the following Tuesday.

Sue Postal, former owner and director of Toledo, Ohio’s Center for Choice, told me last Tuesday the decision is a cause for hope. Not just for women in Ohio, but in every state.

Her story – the story of how her clinic was closed down – is a useful snapshot of how conservatives have used defensible-sounding laws to restrict the access young women have to abortion services in their states.

The Center for Choice when it was first opened in the mid-eighties.

The Center for Choice when it was first opened in the mid-eighties.

The Center for Choice performed its final abortion before permanently closing its doors back in June of 2013. The clinic had long been the target of anti-abortion activism. It was able to withstand arson in 1986, an Anthrax threat in 1998, and unremitting clusters of belligerent picketers that gathered each day.

But it was not firebombs or religious bigots that ultimately caused the clinic to close. Center for Choice stopped its services because they had no answer to the strategic onslaught of restrictions on abortions and abortion providers from Ohio’s statehouse. They didn’t stand a chance.

The same month Center for Choice closed its doors, Ohio Governor John Kasich quietly signed a budget that included provisions like banning rape-crisis counselors in state-funded facilities from referring women to abortion services, and moving Planned Parenthood to the very bottom of the list of Ohio organizations supported by federal family planning dollars, stripping it of $1.4 million.

For four Ohio providers, the most damning measure prohibited ambulatory surgical centers and public hospitals from entering into “transfer agreements,” mandatory pacts between an abortion provider and a local hospital that ensure patient admittance in the event of an emergency. This is the provision that cost Postal her clinic.

“It was like working with a bullseye on your back,” said Postal. “Kasich had us all in a corner.”

During his four and a half years in office, Kasich has enacted 16 legislative proposals related to family planning funding and abortion access across the state. Half of Ohio’s surgical abortion clinics, including Center for Choice, have stopped providing abortion services.

Sue Postal (right) and Carol Dunn, former owner of Center of Choice.

Sue Postal (right) and Carol Dunn, former owner of Center of Choice

In 2011, there were 16 surgical abortion providers in Ohio serving nearly 2.3 million women of reproductive age. By 2015, eight abortion clinics closed their doors, relocated across state lines or stopped providing services altogether. No state, with the exception of Texas, has lost so many clinics during this period of time.

Prior to its closing, Center for Choice worked with UTMC, the former Medical College of Ohio, but University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs withdrew negotiations for a transfer agreement with the facility in 2013 in an effort to, “keep the university neutral on a controversial issue.” According to Postal, the hospital was threatened by Kasich and the Ohio Department of Health to dissolve their relationship with the clinic or they would be defunded.

“The head of residency and her husband both left. There was a lot of fallout from that disagreement,” said Postal.

In addition to failing to procure a transfer agreement, Postal says the clinic was inspected by the Ohio Health Department almost weekly due to repeated anonymous complaints that she believes came from protestors. Each inspection cost the clinic $700.

“It was yet another tactic to discredit me, and the business I ran at every turn for five years.”

After the two other hospitals in the area refused to enter into an agreement, she was left with no other option but to close the doors on her own.

“My lawyers basically said, you can fight this, you can take it through all the possible steps, but more than likely you’ll be shut down. I’d like to say it was some big fight. But at that time, I was always going to lose.”

13582345_10209412427978468_1708190917_o

Toledo’s sole remaining abortion clinic, Capital Care, now faces the same risks. Though Terrie Hubbard, the clinic’s owner was able to secure a transfer agreement with the University of Michigan Health Center more than 50 miles away in Ann Arbor. But in the event of complications, Toledo women will be forced to cross state lines to receive care.

Hubbard no longer gives interviews and has limited her work with abortion advocacy in recent years, said Postal.

“I can’t blame her. They’re putting her through all the same shit I went through.”

While she believes the victory in Texas last week is a victory for pro-choice activists across the United States, the battle is far from won. Postal says that each provision in every state will have to be addressed individually, a process that will take time and even more persistence against conservative Ohio lawmakers like Kasich.

But, for the first time in a while, there is light at the end of the tunnel again.